Friday, November 29, 2013

Highlights from Thanksgiving Day

Another Thanksgiving Day has come and gone. The four of us spent the entire day enjoying one another's company while cooking, eating, laughing, and playing. Emma woke the entire family up bright and early around 5:00 AM. Unfortunately, we were unable to convince Matthew to go back to bed. Several angry threats from Paul to head back to bed were ineffective and Matthew instead sulked in the hallway outside our bedroom door, breathing heavily enough that we eventually could no longer ignore him.

After several LARGE cups of coffee and an interesting pumpkin-themed breakfast featuring Thanksgiving's favorite pie, we cleaned up and headed out to Mass at our parish. The kids were angels throughout the entire Mass which was a lovely surprise. Matthew even sang along with some of the hymns and Baby Emma only had to be taken to the back once because she chose to issue some nonstop happy shrieks in the middle of the consecration.


So excited to begin prepping the turkey! Notice creepy Paul in the background.

Paul showing Matthew how the turkey probably looked before the neck was removed. And then attacking him with it. This grossed me out just a little bit. Matthew, naturally, thought this was awesome.

After Mass, we headed home to prep the turkey. Matthew was so excited to help Paul remove the giblets and rub the seasoning on our bird. He was even more excited about helping build the "big fire" on the grill outside - especially since we received a foot of snow the night before. He came back inside with red cheeks and freezing cold fingers, but happy as a clam.

After putting the turkey on the grill, we made some turkey cookies with Matthew and then enjoyed some appetizers before putting both kiddos down for a pre-dinner nap. Then Paul and I buckled down to make the stuffing and finish the other items on our list before serving dinner.

Paul did a great job! The turkey turned out perfectly moist and delicious.

Paul was pretty proud of himself.

Matthew woke up from his nap on his own and came rushing down the stairs crying: "It's time to eat turkey!" He had some crazy hair, but he was so excited that Thanksgiving dinner was finally here. He was especially excited about eating off the "pretty plates" in the dining room - which we pretty much never use because it is covered in white carpet and Matthew tends to spew pieces of his meal (no matter what it may be) in a three-foot radius around his seat. As a precaution, for Thanksgiving dinner we covered his seat and the surrounding carpet with towels. Maybe a little overkill since he chose to eat only turkey (a lot of turkey) and nothing else.

He's been looking forward to this for weeks! Ignore the crazy hair. He had major bed head after waking up from his nap!

So very enthused to begin enjoying her very first Thanksgiving dinner!

Getting ready to eat!

We started our meal with prayers and then Paul and I named a few of the things for which we are thankful. 

When it came time for Matthew to do the same, he replied with great enthusiasm: "I thankful for TURKEY!"
Paul: "Anything else? Maybe Mommy?"
Matthew: "Uhh...for candles."
Paul: "What else?"
Matthew: "Fire!...SMOKE!"

We saw that this was getting a little out of hand, so we said "Amen!" and began to eat our feast!


She would not let go of the bottle! She was MAD when I finally managed to free it from her surprisingly strong little fists!

We enjoyed a long, leisurely meal with our kids. They both were so happy, eating and chatting away (or more shrieking in Emma's case). Matthew got so hyper and giggly after drinking a couple glasses of sparkling grape juice that Paul and I began to doubt the "alcohol-free" claims on the label. Emma ate about as much as Matthew - finishing off two servings of potatoes and a dinner roll. We surveyed the damage at our meal's end and determined that we probably made enough food to feed 16 people. We'll be eating leftovers for a very long time.

My favorite dish this year was a new addition to our menu: Brussels Sprout Salad with Gouda, Dried Cherries and Pecans. It was a fresh, healthy addition to the table and my first successful attempt at getting Paul to eat Brussels Sprouts. Normally, he won't touch them with a 10-foot pole. I've even tried coating them in bacon grease in the past but haven't been able to convince him to try them. This recipe converted him. It's delicious and will probably become a holiday staple.

Brussels Sprout Salad with Gouda, Dried Cherries, and Pecans
adapted slightly from Cook's Country

Note: The original recipe calls for Smoked Gouda. We used a regular, creamy Gouda and thought it was fantastic, but I'm sure the smoked cheese would add another wonderful dimension to this salad.

3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved, and sliced very thin
4 ounces Gouda cheese, shredded on the large holes of a box grater (about 1 heaping cup)
1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans
1/2 cup chopped dried cherries

Whisk lemon juice, mustard, shallot, garlic and ½ teaspoon salt together in large bowl. Slowly whisk in oil until incorporated. Toss Brussels sprouts with vinaigrette, and let sit for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. I let it go the whole 2 hours before dinner to ensure that the sprouts had enough time to soften and meld with the vinaigrette.

Gently fold in the Gouda, pecans, and cherries. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

We Give Thanks!

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I asked Matthew what he is thankful for. These were the answers I got...

Matthew: Jesus Loves Me.
Me: So, you're thankful for Jesus?
Matthew: And God.
Me: Jesus and God. That's good. What else?
Matthew: Thomas. Thomas is a train. He is a blue engine.
Me: So, you're thankful for Jesus, God, and Thomas?
Matthew: Yes.
Me: Are you thankful for Baby Emma?
[Long Pause]
Me: Matthew? Are you thankful for Baby Emma?
Matthew: Uh, nope.
Me: Are you thankful for Daddy? And Mommy?
Matthew: Daddy need to make a BIG turkey on the grill for Thanksgiving.

At this point he refused to answer any more questions. At least we know that he is thankful for Jesus before Thomas the train.

I just unpacked Matthew's little backpack that he takes with him to Religious Education each week and I found a craft that he made last Wednesday. It was a foam cross with little decorative squares pasted onto it. In each square, the child was supposed to write (or have the teacher write in the case of little 3-year-olds) something for which they are thankful. Matthew had dictated only one thing he was thankful for and it was written in big, black letters in a tiny square located at the very top of the cross: "Mom." My heart melted a bit when I saw that. He does love me!

As for Baby Emma...I'm pretty sure she is currently thankful for pumpkin pie filling. I had a little extra after making our pumpkin pie and baked it in a little ramekin. When she woke up from her nap, there was a perfect, petite little pie waiting for her. She gobbled it down so voraciously - I could barely spoon it into her mouth fast enough! She was pretty mad when she finished it. I tried my best to explain to her that she ate it all, but it's difficult trying to explain such a thing to a baby (they won't get it and will inevitably burst into tears because they truly believe that they have been cruelly cheated).

As for me, there have been so many blessings this year - certainly too many to count! The largest blessing by far was the safe delivery of our precious Emma Rose in March. She has enriched our lives more than I ever imagined. We love her so much and already find it difficult to believe there was a time without her!

I am thankful for my wonderful husband who loves and supports me selflessly...even during my worst moments (which sometimes way outnumber my good moments!).

I am thankful for my goofy little boy who brightens my day and brings meaning to my life. Even though we have had our struggles, he is still the sweetest, most darling little mama's boy in the world!

Matthew loves to help wash the cars!
I am thankful that my children have started to love playing together. It makes my heart so glad to see them interact with one another in such a gentle, loving way. I hope they will always remain close.

I am thankful for my crazy large family - I miss every single one of these people on a daily basis! It'd be great to plan a gigantic family reunion at some point.

I am thankful for my furry pet Reilly the Cat who chooses to nap right in front of the kitchen sink, forcing me to maneuver precariously about him while washing the dishes. Paul swears that if he skinned Reilly and made a tiny rug out of his fur and placed it right in front of the sink, we would never know the difference. In all seriousness, the kids majorly pester and annoy this cat and he has never once scratched or hissed at them. He just takes it! He's a good little cat.

I am thankful for wonderful friendships, yummy food, good health, and the beautiful snowfall happening right now. God has certainly blessed our little family abundantly this year! Tomorrow, we will eat and drink but more importantly we will reflect on the abundant blessings we have received.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Soft Persimmon Cookies with Raisins and Walnuts

At the beginning of the month, Emma and I traveled out to Orange County to visit my paternal grandmother (and Emma's great-grandmother!). I had been eager to visit Grandma and introduce her to her first great-granddaughter for quite some time. When my Dad informed me that he had booked a flight to visit, I quickly booked myself a seat on the same flights so we could travel and spend the week with her together.

Traveling is a BREEZE when Mom is doing all the heavy lifting for ya!

The outbound trip to the OC did not go as smoothly as planned. After being delayed during the first leg of our trip due to engine trouble, we missed our connection in Atlanta. Delta Airlines graciously put us up in a nearby hotel overnight and provided a few vouchers for food. Upon arrival at the hotel, I discovered that my room smelled of urine and could not help noticing the dirty floors, trash-lined hallways, and bug-infested window panes. Delta sure went out of there way to make us feel comfortable. I was pretty afraid that the mattress might be infested with bed bugs and decided that I might be better off sleeping in the armchair. However, the armchair was covered in some questionable stains so I decided that the bed might not be so bad. It didn't really matter because Emma did not want to sleep and fussed all night long. I spent the majority of the night bouncing her while watching some old movies on TCM, including a really strange Burt Lancaster film where he ran around in a bathing suit the whole time while trying to swim in other people's pools (it was bizarre).

Bright and early the next morning, we departed for the OC without a hitch. Until it came time to pick up the rental car. My poor Dad had to stand in line for about an hour because the computer system was down and the rental car agencies were taking down everyone's information by hand, making the whole rental process painstakingly lengthy. Eventually we got our car and made the drive to Grandma's house.

Emma and Great-Grandma Korson

The rest of the trip went smoothly. We enjoyed some wonderful time with Grandma and my various Aunts and Uncles in the area. I was even able to sneak in a visit with my hubby's twin who drove up from his little corner of Los Angeles to spend the day with Emma and Me. My Dad and I never spent a single minute hungry since there was a never-ending supply of treats, snacks, and meals at Grandma's house. I ate way too many pieces of pie, larger-than-life cinnamon rolls, cookies, and bread. We were spoiled. Emma too joined in on all the eating. She tried a bunch of food for the first time - bananas, biscuits, sour cream (she practically dived into it head-first at a Mexican restaurant), chips, Corn Pops, persimmons, raisins, and Biscoff cookies. During one of our dinners, I handed Emma off to Uncle Steve and then checked in on her a couple minutes later only to find her sitting on his lap while gnawing on a chicken wing (and liking it!).

Emma loved meeting her Great-Grandma. She even let Grandma rock her to sleep a couple of times - and trust me, that baby is not easy to get to sleep! She loved being the center of attention and was always willing to show off her toothless grin to anyone and everyone!

Our visit would not have been complete without a visit to see Grandpa and Uncle Paul at the Veteran's Cemetery.
We never would have found his grave if it weren't for Peter and his smartphone!

When it was finally time for us to leave, Grandma insisted that we take some persimmons and oranges back with us. I was so excited to receive so many persimmons from Grandma's trees (we picked about 50 to take back with us). It was a bit of a challenge finding room in our luggage for all that fresh fruit (not to mention trying to keep within the weight limit) but luckily we improvised with a lot of cramming into various pockets, diaper bags, and purses - eventually managing to carry on about 20 pounds of fruit with us. We surprisingly only had one casualty - a rogue persimmon was squashed to death in the bottom of my suitcase. Luckily, the mess was minimal and the remaining persimmons were relatively unblemished.

For those unfamiliar with this amazing fruit, let me explain what exactly are persimmons. Persimmons are a fruit commonly found in California. While there are several varieties, the most common is the Hachiya and the Fuyu. They vary in color from a reddish to bright orange and kind of resemble a tomato with a flower on top. The Fuyu is short, squat, non-astringent variety and thus can be eaten while firm by being cut and sliced like an apple. It is also excellent for use in salads. The Hachiya persimmon is a tear-drop shaped, astringent variety that must be fully ripened before eating or else it will lend a "furry" feel to the mouth of the consumer. Fully ripe Hachiya persimmons feel like a water balloon when squeezed since the pulp within the skin becomes very gelatinous during the ripening process. The pulp is very, very sweet and delicately flavored. I also enjoy eating the skins since they taste like candy when fully ripened! To use a Hachiya persimmons, the top is simply sliced off and the pulp is scooped out with a spoon for use in baking. My Grandmother grows Hachiya persimmons and they are by far my favorite of the two common persimmon varieties. 

While growing up, Grandma would often send us a package around Christmas with tins full of these persimmon cookies. To a certain extent, Christmas is not complete until I have eaten one of these. Their sweet flavor and soft texture transport me back to my childhood and remind me of the anticipation and excitement that I felt during the Christmas season. I baked a batch of these for Paul during our first Christmas together and he is so glad that I introduced him to persimmons and this family recipe for persimmon cookies. If you have the opportunity to get your hands on some persimmons, try baking a batch of these. They will be a welcome addition to the holiday cookie tray!

Soft Persimmon Cookies with Raisins and Walnuts
adapted slightly from a recipe given to me by my Grandma

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup persimmon pulp (from fully ripened Hachiya persimmons)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup raisins (or dried cranberries)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with the sugar. Beat in persimmon pulp, egg, and vanilla. Add in the flour mixture and stir just until everything is combined. Fold in the walnuts and raisins.

Drop by rounded spoonfuls (I like to keep them pretty small) onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for approximately 10-12 minutes (it will depend on how large you made the cookies) or until cookies are brown around the edges and set. Let cool on baking sheets for five minutes and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Our Thanksgiving Plans

Where has the time gone?

I have neglected this blog due to some recent traveling, a couple sick children, and general laziness and procrastination. Now we are suddenly a mere four days away from Thanksgiving...where did the time go?

For Thanksgiving this year, we are going to be having a "quiet" celebration with just the four of us. This will be the first year we have not celebrated with any other family members. We debated this year about spending the day at my parents' house but we both have been spending a lot of time traveling that the thought of getting up early and spending the majority of Thanksgiving Day in the car traveling just sounded exhausting. I'm going to miss seeing my siblings and cooking with my mom in the kitchen, but I certainly will not mind not having to pack a suitcase.

Emma destroying Matthew's train set. He would be oh so upset if he knew. Luckily, he was in the basement
harassing the cat and missed Emma's surprisingly accurate reenactment of "Godzilla".
Even though there will be only four of us seated at the table for Thanksgiving (and one of us is completely toothless), we still plan on making a turkey with a bunch of traditional (and some non-traditional) Thanksgiving side dishes. Paul is going to try grilling our turkey this year. This excites me because the oven will be FREE for me to bake some fresh bread, pies, and side dishes without having to stress too much about how many dishes I can squeeze in at once.

I'm sharing our Thanksgiving menu below along with my tentative timeline for prepping, cooking, and baking (thankfully my scheduling and planning is nowhere near as obnoxiously anal as this one...then again, I have yet to host a big family gathering). I like to do a lot of prep ahead of time to free up the day. I'm planning on spending a large chunk of Thanksgiving morning making some turkey and pilgrim themed crafts with Matthew, exercising, and attending Thanksgiving Mass.

What are your favorite Thanksgiving recipes and traditions?

Nistler Family Thanksgiving Menu 2013

Pumpkin Bread with Cinnamon Butter
Pumpkin Pie (because Paul is nuts and thinks it's a breakfast food)
Fresh Fruit and lots of coffee

Brie Cheese
Cranberry and Walnut Chutney
Toasted Cranberry-Orange Bread
Sliced Summer Sausage

Main Course
Mixed Greens Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette
Cranberry Jello Salad (a blend of these two recipes)
Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad
Grilled Turkey (complements of Paul the Grillmaster)
Herb Gravy
Sausage, Cherry, and Pecan Stuffing
Streuseled Sweet Potato Casserole
Mashed Potato Casserole
Lion House Dinner Rolls
Dry Riesling or Maybe My Favorite Sparkling Wine
Sparkling Grape Juice (for the little guy although I'm sure I'll find Paul guzzling it at some point)

Apple Crumble Pie
Vanilla Ice Cream

The Game Plan: Prep and Cook Schedule

Four Days Ahead:
Make Cranberry-Orange Bread (let cool and freeze)

Three Days Ahead:
Make Pie Dough
Make Gravy

Two Days Ahead:
Make Salad Dressing
Iron Linens for the Table
Wash the China!

Day Before:
Assemble Sweet Potato Casserole and refrigerate (unbaked)
Assemble Mashed Potato Casserole and refrigerate (unbaked)
Make Cranberry Pretzel Salad
Make Pumpkin Pie
Prep Bread for Stuffing

Thanksgiving Day:

10:00 AM: Prepare dough for dinner rolls
10:30 AM: Help Matthew set and decorate the table
11:00 AM: Assemble and Bake Apple Pie
12:00 PM: Turkey Goes on the Grill; Shape the Rolls and let rise again; Prepare Appetizers
1:00 PM: Bake the Rolls; Set out/Eat Appetizers
2:00 PM: Pull Casseroles out of fridge and let sit on the counter-top to come to room temperature
2:15 PM: Make Brussels Sprouts Salad; assemble completely and then let sit in the fridge
2:30 PM: Finish prepping the Stuffing
2:45 PM: Place Stuffing in the oven
3:00 PM: Sweet Potato Casserole goes in oven (covered) with the Stuffing
3:15 PM: Mashed Potato Casserole goes in oven; remove cover from Sweet Potato Casserole; warm gravy on stovetop
3:45 PM: Assemble the mixed greens salad. Toss with vinaigrette.
4:00 PM: Remove all items from oven. Place on table. Carve turkey. Give thanks and EAT!

Have a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving Day!

Especially because right around the corner is...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Cinnamon Apple Pie Cake

While Paul was in Brazil a few weeks back, a few of the employees at the plant in São Luís showed him such tremendous hospitality in ensuring that he always had company for meals, traveling between his hotel and the plant, and so on. He was a little nervous about being completely lost in Brazil, but his fears were completely quelled by the wonderful and friendly people down there. Last week, we were happy to host a couple of these very same Brazilian co-workers who happened to now be in the United States on business. They were so much fun and really enjoyed playing with our children. We served Roasted Pear Salad and Mushroom Risotto (which apparently is a very popular dish in Brazil) for dinner and concluded our meal with this apple pie cake.

This proved to be a very good dessert choice as our guests informed us that apples are such a rare treat in Brazil. Apples do not grow in Brazil and are usually imported from Argentina. However, Argentinian apples are far inferior to the ones grown in the United States. So, whenever they visit the United States, they try to eat as many apples as possible! Thus, an apple dessert was the perfect ending for our meal!

And this apple pie cake is chalk full of apples! Almost embarrassingly easy to make, this dessert is made by piling a springform pan high with sliced tart Granny Smith apples, pouring a simple batter over the top, and baking in the oven for approximately 80 minutes. It emerges from the oven looking very much like a cake. After allowing it to cool completely, it can be sliced easily to reveal the layers and layers of apples almost suspended in a custard-like filling. It's a weird cake/pie/thing...but it sure is delicious! We served generously large slices with a side of cinnamon ice cream and it was the perfect accompaniment.

Cinnamon Apple Pie Cake
adapted slightly from Recipe Girl

6 to 8 Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups superfine white sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable or canola oil
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Additional cinnamon-sugar to sprinkle on top

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 10-inch springform pan with nonstick spray. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper and then spray again.

Combine the granulated sugar and the cinnamon. In a large bowl, toss the apple slices with the cinnamon sugar. Layer the apple slices in the pan until they come about 2/3 of the way up the side.

Prepare the batter by beating the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the oil and the vanilla and beat well.  Stir in the flour. Pour the batter on top of the apples and sprinkle with additional cinnamon-sugar, if desired. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to allow the batter to sink down and around the apples.

Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool COMPLETELY in the pan (the cake will break apart into a volcanic mess if you attempt to remove the sides of the springform pan before it has cooled completely. I actually suggest sticking it in the fridge/freezer to help it cool faster. I had company coming and it was still warm after 90 minutes, so I chucked it in the freezer an hour before they arrived and it did the trick!). Dust with powdered sugar before serving, if desired.

If you would like to serve this pie/cake/thing warm, microwave individual slices for about 30 seconds on high power. Serve slices with cinnamon ice cream.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Pumpkin Cookies with Chocolate and Butterscotch

In the past, my car trips to and from the store, the gym, or church were an opportunity for me to collect my thoughts, make a phone call, or form a "to-do list" in my head. Time in the car was productive because the kids were normally pretty quiet (for once) and strapped in one place so I knew they weren't injuring themselves. However, those quiet moments have been obliterated because Matthew has insisted on checking out CDs full of children's music from our local library to play during our drives. The latest picks currently in our CD case are a compilation of songs from various Veggie Tale productions, The Complete Thomas Sing-Along CD, and a treasury of the 27 most obnoxious children's songs ever composed (I don't know the actual name of it...but there is a singing teapot featured on the CD case to illustrated the song that begins the 67 minutes of torture that is this gem of an album).

Matthew's favorite song is "The Wheels on the Bus" and lately he has been insisting on beginning our fun car rides with that song. He will sing the lyrics from the back seat as loud as he can (as if playing the CD wasn't loud enough) and actually get upset when I decline joining him (catchy though that little ditty may be). The other day, the temperature in the car was a bit warm, so I had all our windows cracked so as to allow the breeze to circulate around us. Of course, the obnoxious Wheel on the Bus song was playing at full volume. When we came to a stop at a busy intersection, I could see the heads of the drivers of the surrounding cars turn to try to determine which car was playing that annoying song. I felt the need to hide behind my steering wheel.

At the next intersection, we hit yet another red light and this time a young man pulled up beside us in his car. His windows were also rolled down, and he glanced over when he heard the music coming from my car and began to laugh: "You go, Mama!" He then proceeded to turn on some tribal music with lots of drums and foul language to drown out the happy playtime music emanating from our vehicle. I was relieved when that light finally turned green.

Yes, my life has certainly changed since I have had children. I cannot name a single song in the Top 40 right now, but I can sing every verse from "This Old Man" along with my 3-year-old.

The recipe I want to share with you today is a pumpkin cookie that is unlike any of the soft, almost cake-like cookies typically made with pumpkin. These are similar in texture to those "soft batch" chocolate chip cookies you can buy in the store, They are soft, chewy, lightly spiced, and packed full of chocolate and butterscotch chips. I was not super jazzed with these when I first pulled them out of the oven, but when they had cooled a bit and given the flavors a bit more time to mingle, they were fantastic. Paul declared these cookies "amazing" and insisted on taking them on his business trip as a snack for the long airplane ride. Matthew also ate about 6 in one sitting, which is unusual for him because he normally demonstrates so much fastidious restraint around baked goods. Personally, my favorite pumpkin cookies are still these, but I did really enjoy this recipe! If you are looking for a different way to use up some canned pumpkin, I highly recommend these!

Pumpkin Cookies with Chocolate and Butterscotch
adapted from Baked by Rachel

10 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
6 tablespoons pumpkin puree
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup butterscotch chips

In a large bowl or stand mixer, cream together butter and sugars. Mix in pumpkin, vanilla and dry ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover and chill until dough is completely firm and cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a baking mat. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls, placing dough about 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 10-11 minutes. Keep an eye on the first batch to make sure they do not overbake. Allow cookies to rest on baking sheet for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat process with remaining dough.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Pumpkin Pie Biscotti

I have been drinking a lot more coffee lately.

Matthew has really been giving me a parental run for my money. He has entered a new phase where he flat out refuses to do anything I say. This includes, but is not limited, to the following: eating, drinking, getting dressed, picking up his toys, playing with his toys, putting his shoes on, taking his shoes off, helping me bake a cake, trying a slice of said cake, etc. In addition, gone is my little buddy who loves to go grocery shopping with his mommy. Instead, I am the mother quickly pushing the shopping cart down the aisle as fast as she can while trying to ignore the incessant screams of her bratty child: "I WANT A COOKIE! I WANT CANDY!!" He has a perpetual scowl on his face when he looks at me and relishes making me mad. He has suddenly become what I have always dreaded he might become: a brat. Where did my sweet little boy go and who is this tiny little demon who has replaced him?

Despite the recent rebellious behavior, I love this precious little guy so much.
I only hope that he knows how much he means to me.

At the end of each day, after we have finally wrestled our little tyrant into bed for the night, I have been experiencing an emotional catharsis in which I over-analyze how I handled Matthew throughout the day. Basically, the end conclusion is that I blame myself for his suddenly horrible behavior. I certainly do not have enough patience with him when he does act out and could definitely be more calm, cool, and collected. I feel that he is channeling my horrible temper and stubborn behavior and perhaps imitating me in my less flattering moments. I have been questioning whether I spoil him, give him too much attention, not enough attention, too many privileges, inconsistent punishments, etc. in an attempt to determine the root cause of his behavior.

Matthew painted this tiny pumpkin and was so proud of it. He has been sleeping with
 it every night since creating it. With two monkeys, a raccoon, a cat, a dinosaur, and now a 
pumpkin, there is not a whole lot of room left in his bed!

My husband is the logical, emotionally detached member of our twosome. He thinks it is just a phase Matthew is going through. Forget the terrible twos, the terrible threes are the worst!

So each morning, I have been dreading the start of the day because they have been a real struggle. Starting day with a nice jolt of caffeine is probably not the most practical way to keep my nerves calm and my temper quelled, but it certainly is a jolt that I look forward to. Especially when my mug of coffee comes with a side of cookie. But not just any cookie. My favorite cookie in the world: a really good biscotti. Anise, almond, chocolate chip, or lemon - the flavor matters not - as long as the cookie sports an addictive crunch and is served alongside a steaming mug of coffee. Since pumpkin spice coffee creamers are all the rage right now, I thought a freshly baked batch of pumpkin pie biscotti would be the perfect addition to my morning cup of coffee.

These are easy to make and pretty forgiving. You can make them as crunchy as you want by varying the length of time these babies sit in the oven once they've been sliced. I personally like them really crunchy, so I let them bake a second time in the oven for about 45 minutes, and then I turn the oven off, crack the door, and let them cool completely. Of course, Matthew still prefers eating them straight without dunking. I'm so afraid he's going to crack a tooth!

Pumpkin Pie Biscotti
adapted from Shauna Sever

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 dark brown sugar
1 large egg

1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree

Position an oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Into a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Using a stand mixer, beat the butter with the spices and vanilla on medium speed until creamy. Add the sugars and beat until well-blended. Add the egg and beat until incorporated. Beat in the pumpkin puree. Reduce the speed to low and stir in the dry ingredients.

Lightly flour a work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Divide the dough in half. Pat each portion of dough into a plank about 7 inches long and 2 inches wide. Carefully transfer the planks onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake until firm in the preheated oven, about 35 minutes. Remove the planks to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees.

Using a serrated bread knife, slice the planks on a slight diagonal into slices. I like to keep mine just over 1/4" thick, but you can slice them as thick as you'd like! Place the slices onto a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. This will allow the air to circulate around the cookies and dry them evenly. Make sure none of the cookies are touching! Repeat this process with the second cookie log. Bake for a second time until each biscotti is very firm and dry, anywhere from 70-90 minutes depending on how crispy you want them.

Let cool completely before storing in an airtight container to serve each morning with your coffee or tea!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake

In the weeks preceding Halloween, I asked Matthew what costume he would like to wear. He responded quickly and without hesitation: "I want to be a dinosaur, Mommy. A T-REX!"

Ok, easy enough. I was sure there would be a couple of dinosaur costumes at the discount clothing store nearby. I took Matthew shopping there a couple days later and much to my chagrin, there was not a single dinosaur costume in his size. I tried to see if he perhaps wanted to dress up as a fireman, Buzz Lightyear, or even Curious George since those costumes were readily available but he was adamant. He wanted to be a dinosaur. And by the end of our trip he had determined that Baby Emma should dress up as a "baby stegosaurus." However, we had already purchased an Eeyore costume for Emma, so that detail of Matthew's dinosaur vision was not happening.

Our little Eeyore. She was a little too good at acting all depressed and glum.

Matthew normally "pets" Baby Emma's head the exact same way he pets Riley.
I like how Emma is returning the gesture and patting his head in this picture!
While shopping for a pair of pants for Emma at a different store a couple days later, I spied what appeared to be a costume decorated with a reptilian-like pattern. Could it be the elusive dinosaur costume we had been seeking?

I pulled it out and Matthew squealed with delight: "A DINOSAUR! THANK YOU MOMMY!" He immediately tried it on and it fit perfectly. Matthew was in 7th heaven, prancing around and showing off his sharp claws and cute spiky tail. But something was not right.

Matthew didn't seem to notice...but a little pair of orange wings on his shoulders gave it away. Matthew was in fact dressed as a dragon...not a dinosaur.

I decided to just go with it and payed a whopping $3.00 for the costume and brought it home to show Paul. Matthew proudly dressed up in his outfit and came running into the room: "ROAR! I is the dinosaur! I a T-REX!" Paul took one look at him and remarked: "I think you're a dragon." I immediately punched him on the shoulder: "No he's not. He's a T-Rex (granted, an anatomically unusual one with wings). Let him be a T-Rex!"

We attended the Halloween event held every year at our local zoo. The kids get to dress up in costumes and then go trick-or-treating around the zoo while enjoying seeing the animals and all the Halloween decorations lit up at night. Our little "dinosaur" was the happiest little tyke, for this was an event he had been looking forward to since the last Zoo Boo. He was so proud of his dinosaur costume. Even though everyone else said he was a dragon.

Someone is so very excited to go trick-or-treating at the zoo!

The most highly anticipated train ride of the year. Lucky Paul was the chosen parent to accompany our
T-Rex on this spooky ride. Baby Emma and Mom enjoyed the warmth of the gift shop.

Baby Emma hates her Eeyore outfit. The little hood drives her crazy. She kept getting mad at
me for not letting her pull it off while we were outdoors - but it was so cold!

Halloween night came and we carved out our Jack-O-Lanterns before heading out for trick-or-treating. Matthew wanted to carve a cat face in the pumpkin this year. He was actually quite a bit of help with the carving process, especially when it came to scooping out the seeds. He was so meticulous - not a single seed was left inside that pumpkin!

Baby Emma seemed like she wanted to get in on the pumpkin carving action!

But when we brought her closer, she became a bit nervous. She was almost a little frightened of that pumpkin.

The master carver at work. Real men carve pumpkins shirtless. Notice Baby Emma has retreated to her
chair in the background. It's safer back there. Plus there are Cheerios.

"I doing it Mommy! I getting the seeds! We eat the pumpkin? It's very good? We like eat Pumpkin?"
Less chit-chat and more carving Matthew.

The final product all lit up! A vampire kitty!

Halloween was a monsoon this year. It rained all day long. Even with an umbrella, there was no avoiding getting drenched since there were some strong 30-mph wind gusts kicking up every couple minutes. However, the nasty weather did not stop us from enjoying some trick-or-treating. Matthew had been looking forward to going out begging for candy for weeks. A little rain certainly was not going to stop him. I actually think he actually was more excited about the prospect of stomping in puddles than the candy he was about to collect! We got him all suited up in his "dinosaur" costume and Spider-man rain boots and then headed out the door.

To each house we went, Matthew met neighbors who fawned over his costume: "Oh what a cute little dragon you are!"

Matthew was quite dismayed that nobody seemed to recognize him dressed up as the king of the dinosaurs: "NO! I a T-Rex! ROAR!" He was more than a little put out that he had to explain his outfit to each person. However, I'm pretty sure he got double the candy just for roaring at everyone. He came back with quite the spread. Too much for a little guy to eat. I have to figure out some creative ways to get rid of it. Or save it for his Christmas stocking (shhhh....).

We enjoyed hot bowls of Chicken Tortilla Soup, Cornbread, and Salsa/Chips after returning home from trick-or-treating. We were all absolutely drenched so the warm soup tasted so great! Of course, our Halloween festivities would be incomplete without a delicious pumpkin dessert to top off the evening.

It is a Halloween tradition in my family to make an Upside-Down Pumpkin Pie. It is my Dad's favorite dessert and everyone else in the family thinks it's the bomb so it makes an appearance more than once each year and definitely at dinner on Halloween night. I still crave this dessert from time to time. In fact, it was something my Mom made for me when I brought Emma home from the hospital because I had been craving it during the last few weeks of pregnancy. However, much to my chagrin, Paul is not a big fan of the dessert. I do not know if it is the fact that it includes walnuts, the texture, etc. but he has never really enjoyed it as much as I. So, for Halloween dessert, I decided to test out another similar pumpkin recipe that is just as easy and convenient as my Mom's Upside-Down Pumpkin Pie.

Enter this Paula Deen recipe. It comes together in minutes and can be made way ahead of time. Perfect for a busy holiday gathering! And it is absolutely delicious - kind of a cross between a pumpkin pie and a pumpkin cheesecake. Paul loved it - although he once again claimed it would be a perfect breakfast staple. He's slightly crazy...but I do indulge his insanity. Guess what he has been eating for breakfast the past couple of days?

Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake
from Paula Deen via Food Network

For the Cake:
1 box yellow cake mix
1 egg
8 tablespoons butter, melted

For the Filling:
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 tablespoons butter, melted
1 (16 ounce) box powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 13x9-inch baking pan.

Combine the cake mix, egg, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed until well blended. Pat the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.

Wipe out the mixing bowl and then add the cream cheese and pumpkin. Beat on medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter, and beat together until well combined. Add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mix well. Spread pumpkin mixture over cake batter and bake for 40-50 minutes. Make sure not to overbake as the center should be a little gooey. I actually let mine go the full 50 minutes and it was still quite jiggly in the middle, but set up beautifully once cool.

Let cool to room temperature or chill in the fridge. Serve with freshly whipped cream and a dusting of cinnamon!

**This post is linking up with all the other lovely bloggers for What's Cookin' Wednesday over at Buns in My Oven!**