Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fun Monday - Spooky Edition

Sayre, over at SayreSmiles is our hostess this week. Keeping with our Halloween time of the year she has given us the following assignment:

Tell us about your favorite Halloween as a kid (pictures, if you have them!), and show us your costume for this year. If you're not dressing up, show us a picture of a pumpkin carving that really tickled your fancy or how you decorated your house.

I grew up in England during my prime trick-or-treating years, and I don't know if it has changed much, but back in the early 1980's they didn't really trick or treat over there. I remember one Halloween my mom loading me and my two brothers and my sister into the car and driving us to all of our American friends houses to trick or treat. Needless to say, we didn't ever get a lot of candy while we lived there.

Another Halloween in England my mom threw a big Halloween party for all the different families we were friends with. She went all out and hung up creepy homemade decorations and had scary music playing. We had a long window over our stairs right at the front of the house that we could open. She strung a ghost made out of a white sheet to a tree outside and then strung the end of the rope into our house through that window. It was the kid's job to pull on (or let go of, I can't remember now!) the string and send the ghost flying right down to the entryway outside our front door. It was great fun scaring adults and kids alike, though my best friend at the time wouldn't come into my house after that! My mom also served foods with scary names like witch's brew for green kool-aid or Vampire's blood for red punch. I'm sure the adults had stronger concoctions, but I wasn't aware of it.

I don't have any Halloween pics of costumes for myself this year (though one of my favorite costumes was the first year after I was married and my new husband went as Fox Mulder and I went as Dana Scully!). So here are our pumpkins we carved for last year's Halloween. One is the traditional scary pumpkin, and the other is a little more artsy fartsy (we like to say "creative.")

Here's a close-up of the scary pumpkin.

And here's a close-up of our creative pumpkin.

Finally, here is a picture of my youngest daughter helping her Dad to make our creative pumpkin. She is 3 1/2 in this picture. (Yes, that's an electric drill if any of you were curious how we achieved such an effect.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Another Cake

This is a cake I made for my sister-in-law's husband for his birthday. It is a dark chocolate cake with fluffy peanut butter frosting and chocolate frosting. On top are chopped up chocolate and peanut butter chips. This was very decadent and tasted wonderful. I did not get a picture of the cake sliced, but it looked so pretty. My only complaint was that the cake turned out a bit crumbly. It was made from scratch and was not quite as sturdy as a box mix cake. But, it did taste great.

The recipe I used was for Dark Chocolate Cake from, one of my favorite recipe websites. I followed the directions exactly, EXCEPT I baked it in two nine inch pans and made six cupcakes. Also, grease and flour the pans, otherwise you risk the cake not coming out after all your hard work! After baking and cooling, I split each cake in half. I then made the peanut butter frosting and it turned out great. It was difficult to spread at first, but after adding a little more milk it spread very easily. If you are a peanut butter lover, this frosting is amazing! It reminded me of the inside of a Buckeye candy. So delicious! I also made the fluffy chocolate frosting recipe from the Cake Mix Doctor book and then layered the cakes as follows: cake, peanut butter frosting, cake, chocolate frosting, cake, peanut butter frosting, cake, chocolate frosting. I topped the cake off with chopped up chocolate and peanut butter chips. This turned out to be a really decadent cake and a great way to celebrate Patrick's birthday.

Here are my daughter's posing with the cake.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Eight Percent

I have lived in or visited eight percent of the world countries. The really sad thing about that is all but two (the Bahamas and the USA) were as a child. As an adult I've pretty much gone nowhere.

visited 18 states (8%)
Create your own visited map of The World

Thanks to Irish CoffeeHouse for the links!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Funny Things My Kids Say

- Ian got in trouble yesterday for screaming at his sister. When I asked him why he did it, he said, "Do unto others as they do to you - the Golden Rule." Apparently his sister stuck her tongue out at him as she was walking up the stairs. I clarified the Golden Rule and our house rules.

- Zoe told me that if I ever had another baby and if it was a girl she would sleep in her sleeping bag on the floor so the baby could sleep in her bed.

- Zoe gave me a special hug and kiss last night because she thought that someday Brendan and I wouldn't live together anymore. (Brendan's parents are divorced.)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Birthday Cakes

Way back in August we had a double birthday party for Ian and Emma. Ian's birthday is in July and Emma's is about two weeks later in August, so it just makes sense to combine them when it is going to be a family affair. Since they were little I've been making their cakes myself. I love seeing their faces when they see the cakes they requested.

This year was no exception. Emma changed her mind repeatedly and finally decided on a cake with hearts all over it. Ian initially talked about a Pokeball, which I thought would be pretty easy. And in the end he did pick a pokeball, but not the regular recognizable one. No, instead he chose a Masterball, which are more successful when being used to catch Pokemon. After asking Ian to describe the Masterball to me, I decided to Google it for an image I could understand. After finding and printing out a picture of the pokeball, I went to work.

The resulting cakes looked like this:

Emma's cake is on the left. Her's was a yellow cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. The hearts and her name are made out of marshmallow fondant. I brushed some pink luster dust on her name, and she wanted me to add more to the hearts. Here's a close-up of her cake:

Ian's cake is the Masterball on the right. He requested chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting. I used the top of two cupcakes to make the bumps on top of the cake. The cake is covered in marshmallow fondant. In the end Ian was thrilled with his cake. Here is a more detailed look at it:

Actually, they both were happy with their cakes, which made me happy. I can only imagine what they'll come up with for next year!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Fun Monday - Storytime

Our lovely hostess this week is Mommy Wizdom and she gives us the following:

So, this is the assignment:

Themes to choose from:

A visit by your mother in law

Bedtime Stories

Raising a Teenager

The words: Ostrich, goosebumps, magazines, soup, cats, lethargic, noodles, tequila, doorknob, biscuit

Wild card words: prehistoric, Jedi Knight, cactus, periscope, humor

Your job is to write a story (true or made-up), poem, song, letter... whatever strikes you ABOUT one of the three themes. You must INCLUDE all 10 words. Wild cards words may be used in addition to or in place of the main 10 words.

Sounds fun, huh?

Here's my entry:

Riiiiing. Riiing. "Hello?" I answer the phone.

"Hello, Heather. How are you doing?" It's my mother-in-law.

"Just fine, thanks. How are you today, Sally?"

"Great, just great. I was out running some errands, you know, picking up some noodles for the soup I was going to make for myself for dinner tonight. And since I had to stop at the Food Mart in Naperville, I was wondering if I could stop by for a visit. I've got biscuits!" (That last sentence was said in a sing song voice.)

"That sounds great! Come on over," I reply as I silently swear to myself. I hang up with Sally and start running around the house trying to clean up. I shake the lethargy out of my head as I wipe down every doorknob with an antibacterial wipe. I grab all the magazines strewn on the kitchen table and pile them neatly in the basket under our end table. I clean up the cat's litter box to ensure that there are no lingering smells in the house. Finally, I grab the tequila from the fridge, take a swig, and paste a great big smile on my face.

Ding Dong. The doorbell rings and I open the door with a smile that would fool even the most honorable Jedi Knight. He will not feel a disturbance in the Force from me today!

Sally walks in and immediately turns my thermostat up three degrees. Her goosebumps are visible through her two layers and she shivers just a little. I again silently swear to myself that I should have turned the heat up. Oh well.

We sit down to a cup of coffee and Sally gets the biscuits out of her bag. They are looking a little dry and old, but I don't want to insult her, so I smile sweetly and dip one of the prehistoric rocks into my coffee. It softens only slightly.

After a long discussion about her latest crocheting project, the fact that her Christmas cactus is blooming in July, and her possible investment in an ostrich farm, (I talked her out of it) she got up and decided it was time to go.

We hugged goodbye and I told her to come again anytime.

This account is purely fictional and any resemblance to my actual wonderful mother-in-law is purely coincidental!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Apple Picking Recipe

On Saturday we hopped in the van and headed to Woodstock, IL for some apple picking. Apple picking has become a family tradition for us now and each year we seem to bring home more and more apples. This year was no exception. After all the fun we have each year, and all the great things we can make with the apples we pick, we always can find new recipes and uses for the apples.

We have been having trouble finding orchards that don't make a carnival out of picking apples, while charging an arm and a leg for the carnival activities. The last few years we've gone to orchards that charged upwards of $4 or $5 for the kids to go and play at a special playground, ride in a tractor pulled "apple wagon" or get into a petting zoo. The worst part was that the orchard would charge for the adults to go into the playground area as well, but children could not go in unattended. Our kids had always had a great time picking apples, simply for the act of picking apples and spending time with their family. We usually bought some apple cider doughnuts and called it a great day. But since going to these orchards that tried to make apple picking an "event," we got tired of telling our kids "no" only to hear them whine about how all the other kids got to go to the playground.

So this year we searched for orchards that were actually about picking apples and found several great options within a two hour drive of home. We decided on Homestead Orchard and after lunch headed out there. We discovered a small family run orchard with many cars parking on the road outside the entrance to the orchard. This was surely a good sign and we pulled in and parked. There were no gimmicks or slides to be found anywhere! And lo and behold, not one whine from the kids.

We were given directions of which trees we could pick from and each of us was given a bag. The girls received 1/4 peck bags while Ian, Brendan and I all got peck bags. We spent about 45 minutes picking and eating apples, then went into the shop to buy them. We bought $40 worth of apples and headed back home. My only complaint would be that they didn't have any apple cider doughnuts, almost as much a part of the tradition as the actual apple picking. Zoe was the only one to mention it, so I promised her an ice cream sandwich when we got home and she brightened up considerably.

It was a great day, and now I'm gearing up for pie, cake, muffin and applesauce making.

I made my first batch of applesauce today and thought I'd share my recipe with you all. We all love it, and it is very easy!


Enough apples to fill up your crock pot (I used 20 small apples)
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Peel, core, and quarter apples. Place in crockpot. Pour in water. Add sugar and cinnamon. Stir apples to mix in sugar and cinnamon. Here is what my crockpot looked like after this step:

Turn crockpot to low. After two hours stir. Your apples should look something like this:

After two more hours (4 hours in crockpot) stir again. Here's what my apples looked like at this stage:

An hour and a half later (at the 5 1/2 hour mark), stir apples and begin breaking them up against the side of the crockpot. They should break apart very easily.

If you like chunky applesauce, stop here. If you like a slightly smoother texture like I do, you can take about 1 1/2 cups of the applesauce and put it in a blender. Blend until smooth like baby food. Pour back into the applesauce in the crock pot and stir together. When it is done it will look something like this:

This is absolutely delicious warm, and the way my nine year old son likes it best. you could easily make this without sugar if you want to make it healthier, and cooking it on high would be fine, but it should only take about three hours total. This applesauce freezes great! My batch made about 6 cups of applesauce. I plan on making at least one more batch in the next few weeks so that we will have plenty of applesauce for the upcoming holidays and whenever else we want to have some.