Tuesday, September 30, 2014

We're Still Here!

So sorry for the silence on my end over the past few weeks. I have been really sick and food has really not been my friend. Actually, most activities have been pretty rough as well. We've been surviving on quick and easy to prepare meals - usually in the form of Rice-a-Roni and frozen pizza. The kids have been happy - it's going to be tough coaxing them to eat vegetables and quinoa again after this! Paul has been great with keeping the household running while I lay on the couch waiting for death. Hopefully I'll start feeling better soon and everything will go back to normal.

In the meantime, I've been trying to suck it up and enjoy these beautiful fall days with the kids. The temperatures have been so pleasant, that we've been spending a lot of time outdoors. After all, we better relish our time outside now before we are forced to hibernate during the long winter months! I'm going to miss the fresh air!

The kids and I love to go on nature walks together. There is a lovely nature preserve a short distance from our home. They have a great, interactive interpretive center where the kids can see different types of animals, examine various animal skulls, skins, and pelts, and learn how plants grow and develop. Matthew especially loves going because they have a huge turtle pond right outside the interpretive center where the turtles (and frogs) are extremely active. He could sit there for hours and watch them. But, his restless mommy does not allow him to do that and makes him take a walk along the boardwalks weaving through the surrounding woods.

At the swamp. That might look like grass, but it is a thick layer of moss covering the swamp water. Kind of nasty.

Spotting a turtle.

Patiently waiting for another to pop to the surface.

Emma sometimes runs along with us - she's pretty active for being two feet tall. However, sometimes she gets a little too close to the edge of the bridges that I begin to have visions of her falling into the ponds and streams. So, I decided to strap her into the stroller for this particular jaunt. She wasn't too happy with me for that.

Attempting to escape the stroller.

 I've been trying to treasure these special outings with my children. I can't believe how quickly the time has already passed with them and I know that these moments will continue to be fleeting. Every time Matthew jumps into my arms and gives me a big kiss when I pick him up from school, I think of how heartbreaking it will be for me when he grows too old to show his mother affection in public. I'm going to savor it while I can.

Although, I really am looking forward to the day Emma stops running her greasy, post-meal fingers through her freshly washed hair. She's such a little lady.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Brewer's Blondies

Last night, Matthew knocked Emma over and began to drag her across the deck with a hula-hoop. We sent him to his room.

When he came down approximately 30 minutes later, he saw that we were pulling some enchiladas out of the oven for dinner. "I can't want like enchiladas. They are yucky!" he proclaimed.

Paul told him that he had to at least try them before he made that judgement call. Matthew began to throw a fit.

Paul then picked up the jar holding all of our kitchen utensils, set them on the floor in front of Matthew, and told him that it was now up to him to select the spoon/whisk/spatula/ladle to be used for his spanking. Matthew groaned and selected a white plastic spoon. He received a quick swat on the rump and was an angel for the remainder of the night.

Sometimes Paul's parenting techniques really crack me up. He is really effective! I had to capture a couple pictures of the whole scenario. Yes, Matthew is actually laughing because he thought the whole thing was kind of funny...that is, until the whole spanking part.

Perhaps it is the stressful nature of parenting that compels Paul to pick up a beer every night immediately after the children are finally quiet for the night. He claims that even before discovering his love of beer and other malted alcoholic beverages, he always loved malted milk products - including Whoppers, his favorite candy. Thank goodness somebody likes those things because I personally hate them! While glancing through one of my favorite baking books, Paul saw a blondie recipe that called for both chopped up Whoppers and a generous amount of malted milk powder. He was sold! He wanted me to make those blondies the next time I baked. So, last weekend, Emma and I picked out the ingredients from the store (on a rare errand out just us women!) and these were happily baking in the oven within no time!

Waiting for them to cool was difficult, they looked and smelled heavenly. But they were more than worth the wait! I think this might be my new favorite blondie recipe. The malt really shines through combined with the salty batter, the crunchy nuts, and the gooey melted chocolate. These would be perfect served warmed with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream over top. I loved that they were not too sweet and not any single ingredient overpowered the others. Everything worked together harmoniously to create a pretty fantastic treat! All four of us loved these cookies and I can't wait to make them again!

It was only after taking and then uploading these pictures that I noticed my camera lens was covered with tiny little fingerprints. The camera is no longer safe in its usual perch atop the microwave (a great spot for it, I know) since my 17-month-old has discovered that the dining chairs may be easily pushed to access any high spaces. Bear with the pictures, fingerprints and all!

Brewer's Blondies
from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons malted milk powder
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 3/4 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup malted milk balls (like Whoppers or Maltesers), coarsely chopped in a food processor
3/4 cup (9 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch glass baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and malted milk powder together.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until completely combined. Scrape down the bowl, add the eggs and vanilla, and beat until combined.

Add the flour mixture in two batches until just combined. Add the malted milk balls, chocolate chips and walnuts and beat until just combined, about 10 seconds. The mixture will be thick. Turn the mixture out into the prepared pan and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly.

Bake in the center of the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the blondie comes out clean.

Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. These blondies taste delicious warm and cooled to room temperature. Wait until the blondies have completely cooled before cutting if you desire to make neat little squares.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Best and Easiest Homemade Flour Tortillas

Last week, we took Emma to  her first baseball game. We received tickets through Paul's work and figured it would be a fun family night out. We were especially excited to take Matthew but discovered that he was more interested in the food than the baseball game. Emma actually sat pretty quietly and calmly on my lap for the first two innings before she started to get restless. She climbed down during the third inning and insisted on standing and bobbing about for the next few at-bats. That was about the time a young Dad and his 6-year-old daughter climbed into the seats next to us each holding a gigantic plate full of nachos. Emma could not take her eyes off the nachos and pointed at them urgently.

"No Emma, those are not ours!" I whispered to her. She did not complain about it again, so I went back to watching the game. A little while later, she climbed back into my lap. I thought she just wanted to cuddle, but really the little chunk was trying to inch a little closer to those nachos.

A minute later, I heard the little girl yell: "HEY!"

I looked down to see Emma holding a gigantic cheese-smothered chip that she had grabbed from the little girl's plate. She looked guilty and quickly stuffed as much of the chip in her mouth before I could react.

"Emma! NO!" I tried to grab the rest of the chip away, but she held on tight. The little girl scooted away from Emma, scowling at her the whole time. At least her dad seemed to have a sense of humor about the whole thing. He couldn't stop laughing. They actually ended up taking off early from the game, leaving their half-full trays of nachos behind on the concrete below their seat. That was when we decided to take off - Emma kept fighting to get to those leftover nachos. I swear with the ways my kids act in public, people are going to think I never feed them!!

Watching our cat stalk a rabbit.

Switching gears for a moment...let's talk about tortillas!

Does this scenario sound familiar? You see that "enchiladas" are on the menu for dinner and the kids are napping so you figure it is the perfect time to start making those bad boys. You open the pantry and realize that you forgot to buy the tortillas! Kind of a necessary ingredient, right? Do you wake the kids up and drag them to the store? Do you phone your husband and ask him to stop by the store on the way home (and risk have him walking in with about 300 extra items you don't need - like the habanero flavored Cheetos he was drooling over last weekend)? Or do you fulfill your role as domestic goddess and take matters into your own hands and simply make your own tortillas? Believe it or not, you can have a beautiful, fresh batch of homemade tortillas in about the time it takes to run to the grocery store and back!

If you've never done it before, this is a great recipe to start with! It's easier than my previous recipe and rolls out like a dream. I was amazed at how simple it was to get these nice and thin! Since most of us humble folk probably do not have access to a tortilla press (we can't all be Rick Bayless), the most difficult part about making tortillas is rolling them into a perfect circle. It is a little difficult to get the hang of, but if you keep your surface well-floured and keep working at it, you'll develop the technique pretty quickly! Admittedly, my first two tortillas were closer to being a square than a circle. However, by the third one I had the shaping down! Both kids were sleeping while I was working on this and from start to finish, the whole process took me less than 45 minutes. I might have to start making a big, big batch of these to store in the freezer to make future meals easier!

The BEST Homemade Tortillas
barely adapted from The Cafe Sucre Farina

3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup warm water

Whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the dough hook, mix dry ingredients until well combined. Add oil and water with mixer running at a medium speed. Mix for 1 minute, stopping several times to scrape the sides of the bowl. After about 1 minute, or whenever the mixture comes together and begins to form a ball, decrease mixing speed to low. Continue to mix for 1 minute or until dough is smooth.

Transfer the dough to a well-floured work surface. Divide the dough into 16 portions. Form each piece into a ball and flatten with the palm of your hand a bit. Don't be afraid to use a little flour if the dough is too sticky to work with! Cover flattened balls of dough with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rest for 15 minutes before proceeding.

After rest period, heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Roll each dough piece into a rough circle, about 6-7 inches in diameter, keep work surface and rolling pin lightly floured. Again, do not be afraid to flour and re-flour the work surface as you roll each piece of dough.

When pan is very hot, place one dough circle into pan and allow to cook about 1 minute or until bottom surface has a few pale brown spots (I used this time to continue rolling out more dough into neat little circles - but don't forget to keep an eye on the tortilla in the pan or else it will scorch!!). The uncooked surface will begin to show a few little bubbles. If tortilla is browning too fast, reduced heat a bit. If it’s taking longer than a minute to see a few pale golden brown spots on underside of tortillas, increase heat a bit. Flip to other side and cook for about 30 seconds. You want the tortilla to be soft but have a few small pale golden brown spots on surface. Remove from and stack tortillas together. Keep them covered with a dish towel. Repeat until all the tortillas are cooked.

Use immediately or transfer to a ziploc storage bag and refrigerate or freeze! To rewarm, wrap in a few damp paper towels and microwave on high for 20-30 seconds.