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A Few of My Favorite Things…

Happy Almost Valentine’s Day Everyone!!! I hope everyone is having a great year so far since last I wrote. We’ve gotten lucky so far with the weather, but tonight into tomorrow we’re in for a bit of a doozy. I’m hoping that, should we need to do regular grocery shopping tomorrow, we won’t be surrounded by those folks who think the world will be ending with a little bit of snow and picking up their “French Toast Emergency Kit” (Eggs, Milk, Bread).

So here we are… mid February. It’s a good month. Lots of things happening this month. Waiting for the arrival of a new cousin. Can’t wait to meet him or her. Lily came with me to the proud mamma’s baby shower and was surprised it wasn’t raining actual babies. The way she thinks, it makes me smile. Imagination this kid has is amazing! Which brings me to my first favorite thing of the year. They’re not in any particular order by any means.

Lily’s art… She’s a great artist even if she’s only 4 (going on 5 this year!!!)

Susan Strong and Peppermint Butler

Jake the Dog and Finn the Human

The Ice King and Princess Bubblegum

She LOVES watching Adventure Time. She’s been drawing the characters from the show a lot. Not too shabby if you ask me. It’s a great show, although I’m thinking it might be a tad old for her to really comprehend, but it’s all good.

Next, might as well get the naughty favorite out of the way. And yes this is still a safe for work, if anyone reads this at work, blog. I really like Speculoos! A lot… probably more than anyone should really like such an evil and delicious treat. Think a bunch of cookies mashed up in your mouth like gingerbread, gingersnaps, butter and sugar cookies to make a consistency not unlike peanut butter. That’s what it is. A cookie party in your mouth. No need to make a sandwich with this stuff, you can just take it by a spoonful and enjoy. Trust me… if you like cookies, you will LOVE this stuff. We have not a speck of speculoos in the house so I’m really craving it’s deliciousness right about now.

And to counteract the naughty goodness that is speculoos, we move on to my next favorite thing of 2012 so far… that is… drumroll please… weightloss. Yes. So far so good. My husband and I are doing pretty well on WeightWatchers right now. I’m hoping with weigh in tomorrow morning I will have lost a full 10 pounds since starting this in the beginning of the year. Slow and steady is my preferrable method. The weight didn’t get here in one night, so I definitely don’t expect it to leave in one night either, but it would be nice… Hey… a gal can dream can’t she?

I’m really liking making crocheted items. I recently made a cute little octopus toy for my hubby (Steve). The little guy came out really cute. I shall call him Grape-topus due to his really nice purple color. Steve requested button eyes. I complied mostly because I hadn’t had the opportunity to obtain a bag of safety eyes I had been searching for. Thanks to a podcast I listen to (which is yet another favorite thing to be discussed shortly) I now have a new place to order them instead of a store.

So, podcasts. They’re fantastic! I admit, I listen to them at work just about every day, all day long sometimes. It helps me focus better. You might think they’d do the opposite, but really, it helps move the day along and provides entertainment.

My podcast listening consists of a wide array of topics. I’m geeky, nerdy, crafty you name it, I might fall into the category, even with just one pinky toe. SassypantsKnitter is currently a video podcast by a lovely woman who’s as crafty as she is sassy. I watch her podcast during my lunch break if I happen to be working on a crochet project. She shares her life and projects and makes me really really really want to give socks a chance. Socks make me nervous. I tried to crochet some, it didn’t work out. The circle got twisted and I ended up with an infinity loop. That is a “to hold for later” project.

I also listen to a vegetable gardening podcast from a guy in New Jersey. Every week I get so buzzed about starting my seeds and plantings. I’m very anxious for gardening this year. Can’t wait to put up my new greenhouse and get started (Spring, please hurry!!!). Mike gives lots of really good tips and also has a seeds of the month club. I can’t decide what to pick up personally. I have a stash of seeds from last year that need to be used. Need to test and see if they’re still good and all that jazz. Looking forward to dirt under my fingernails and the smell of fresh soil and veggies!

Lastly, not the last podcast, but definitely worth mentioning. Nobody’s Listening… one word: FUNNY! James and John, plus hopefully the regularly occuring Ethan are hysterical. It’s almost dangerous for me to listen to this at work. Let’s just say, have tissues at the ready. This is a clean podcast, language-wise anyways. The humor and stories… they can get a bit disgusting, gross, crude, but honestly, so hilarious, this chick was nearly hyperventilating during the podcast about “Fresh Hot Pizza”. I had tears streaming down my face listening to this one. Had to break it up between two days as I was trying to fight uncontrollable laughter in my cubicle. Thankfully, no one came by my little corner of the office or I’d have had to explain myself.

So there you have it folks. My small list of things which are my favorites for the beginning of 2012. This year, I think, is a year of change and productivity. Looking forward to a lot of things. My cousin’s baby should be arriving any day now, I’m turning 35 (OMG!), my son turns 2 next month, my brother gets married in April, daughter turns 5 in June, it’s going to be a good year… or else!

Side side note: I’ve got a goal for myself that needs to be at least close to accomplishment by my birthday this year. I’ve got a couple weeks to make it happen. Wish me luck. You don’t need to know exactly what it is right now. If I told you there’d be trouble with a capital T.

I leave you with this. Eat crispy kale folks. You won’t regret it. Instead of popping a bag of potato chips, grab a bag of kale, rinse, toss with olive oil, garlic powder, dash of salt, ground pepper, chili powder and bake at 350° until crispy… it’s flipping delicious!

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Resolve to Dissolve … and other stuff

Hello readers!

Happy New Year!!! Hope everyone had a festive holiday season and that your year is off to a great start.

Let’s see. A quick Christmas recap from my life. Christmas Eve and Day were great! Lots of love and excitement in the house. The baking fun didn’t end with the cookies as I had planned. I decided to make some loaves of sour dough bread. Let me tell you all, so delicious. Letting a sour dough starter “grow” for about a week makes really fabulous bread.

Also made a croquembouche for both Christmas Eve and Day. Used a Martha Stewart recipe for every bit of this delicious treat. You can go here for the recipe. I used extra cruschikis to “spruce” it up a bit too. If you attempt this at all, be aware of the extreme high temperatures of the sugar for the decorating. I’m not talking, ouch, it burns… it’s more like sticking your hand into a fire and having a hot coal stuck to your hand until you can gather your senses long enough to put your hand in ice cold water to prevent further pain. It hurts, but it’s almost a good hurt. (no, no it’s not)

Kids got lots of great stuff and so did the parents (hubby and myself, yay!). One of my favorite gifts this year happens to be from said hubby. He found a really neat lens to attach to my phone to use with macro photography. It is SUPER cool!!! Click here to check it out! Here is also one of the many photos I’ve taken with the lens.

This is an “EXTREME CLOSE UP” of a thin mint cookie from my baking holiday extravaganza 2011. Very cool pic. I could totally see myself running around the little candy sprinkles and jumping over lines of chocolate, were I to be shrunk to the appropriate size, of course.

In the middle of all the holiday festivities and baking and working and chasing after a 4 and 1 year old, I started a couple projects. The easy one is a baby blanket for a new cousin about to be born in a few weeks. I think it came out rather well. (pats self on back)

The other crochet project was a Minion from Despicable Me. My husband’s boss loves these little guys. They are surprisingly fun to make too… well… until you get to the details. And if it was super easy, everyone would do it too. So I’ve heard. Here’s the progression in pictures.

Now (drumroll please) the main topic of this post. If you’ve made it this far, I’m grateful for your readership. Yes, I tend to ramble, but hope that my going on and on makes you smile or makes you feel good.

My husband and I have decided to go back on WeightWatchers (online). I say back because we’ve tried it with much success before and have fallen off the wagon a few times over the course of many years. I feel like this time is it… really. It has to be. I’m putting myself out here on the internet. I don’t consider myself to be… well… overdramatically unhealthy, if I can call it that. I feel quite active in my advancing years (not ready for AARP just yet) but I’m tired of not being happy with myself. I can make myself happy with food and tv just as much as anyone else can, but am I genuinely happy. Not in the least. Do I hope that eventually I become a success story for myself? Absolutely.

I didn’t gain wait overnight… well… I did, but it was little increments which when added up is a lot. Yes, I had two kids, and I don’t want that to be an excuse to be this way. I’m not sharing pics of myself other than the ones from one of the earlier posts from my hair donation. I will say that I’d like to be fitter, healthier and happier. I have EA Sports Active for PS3 and Wii. I will say I find the PS3 version to be a little better as I don’t need to hold any controllers in my hands with each exercise. I also have Zumba for Wii, which is pretty fun and probably funnier to watch me do as I have zero coordination or balance. Plus, it’s also wonderful to have access to the decent handful of streaming Netflix workout videos.

So here I am… I’m doing it. So there! =P

More importantly I’m doing it to chase these little munchkins around.

‘Tis the Season… for BAKING!!!

Hello folks!

It’s the season again for me to bake my heart out and make deliciousness for all my friends and family for Christmas. I love doing this, and while it is A LOT of work, it’s truly rewarding to see people enjoying a handmade, from the heart gift. Plus, I am “legitimately” a pastry chef, so I gotta produce deliciousness.

So, every year, I make Cruschikis. I remember, as a kid, making them every so often with my mom, and vaguely remember her mom making them. Being just a little Polish, I feel I need to make these every year to reconnect with those memories and honor my grandmother (hopefully she sees how I’m doing and is pleased). They are delicious crunchy fried bites of dough made up of egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, sour cream, booze (I use Souther Comfort) and flour. Mix it all up, roll it out, flip it through and fry in crisco. Yes, crisco. I hate using it, but get the best results from it. Dust with powdered sugar and yum! You can always tell when someone eats one of these… they’ve got the badge of honor on their shirt as a light dusting that’s attempted to be brushed off. Wear it proud!

I also like to make these brownies… I call them evil brownies because they really are. You can’t stop at just one, but in all honesty, my husband and I have the delight of eating the edges. They get cut into 2 inch pieces with much effort. There’s a lot of deliciousness happening on top. This is one of the few things I still use a mix for. I haven’t ever been disappointed with the brownie mix I use for these. Yes, I am capable of using a recipe for this, but as you will see after this little tidbit, I baked a lot and had to cut one little corner. I use the Hershey brownie mix you can get in Sam’s Club. They have 4 pouches in each box. I use 3 per sheet pan. Mix according to directions, spread in pan (prepared with butter and parchment paper)… then the fun or “magic” happens. Sprinkle the spread out batter with chocolate chips, then pecans, then shredded coconut, then drizzle that with sweetened condensed milk. Bake and enjoy the aroma of this awesome treat. It’s so good! The edges are the best part, as I mentioned a few lines up so be prepared to bag up those goodies and store them in a ziploc baggie in the back of your freezer for later consumption… if they make it that far.

Next up… a new recipe. I had been making the same things year after year, and aside from my first two goodies, I needed a change. So, with all the whites l had left over from Cruschiki making I made Peppermint Meringue “kisses”. They aren’t as hard as anyone would expect. Before going to culinary school at the Institute of Culinary Education a few years back, I figured it would be difficult to make the really seemingly difficult pastries and desserts… not so. Everything is methodical. With patience and understanding of  your ingredients and the concept of mise en place. It’s not that difficult to produce beautiful desserts. So without further adieu… here they are!

Next new recipe tried is “thin mints“. They were awesome and so easy to make. I love slice and bake cookies. You make the dough when you have time, let it chill for one hour to overnight, slice and bake. Easy peasy! I have a ruler just for baking so it’s got little gouges in it at various increments. It works out well. I like to keep things like that separate. No need to use a ruler for measuring paper and get cookie dough on it right? Right! These little gems were drizzled with chocolate and sprinkled with either pink/red sprinkles or green sprinkles. Didn’t want to go overboard, less is more!

The next two cookie treats I make were from the Momofuku Milk Bar. I honestly don’t know why I’ve yet to visit this awesome place. I would very much like to stop in some time. I made Cinnamon-Sugar Squares, which if anyone that knows me really well knows, I LOVE LOVE LOVE cinnamon! I love the smell, I love adding it appropriately to baked goods, it’s my favorite… clearly. Of all the spices in my kitchen, it’s my favorite… but don’t tell cardamom, I hear they get jealous. My husband tried these little heavenly morsels of cinnamony goodness and his words were, “they taste like a healthier churro”. They’re fantastic! Highly recommend these. They came out a little spongy, with a lightly crunchy top.

The other recipe I tried from Momofuku are their Snappy Ginger Snaps. Another slice and bake recipe. Win-win for me. I finished making the thin mint recipe and while that was chilling I made the ginger snap recipe. YUM! I love ginger snaps. Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved them. My father’s father had this great cookie jar (which I have now) and he’d have ginger snaps every time we were visiting. I remember the sound the lid make when you took it off and the rustling of the cookies when reaching in to grab that spicy snack. This particular recipe, however, was amped up a bit. I felt a kick in my mouth a few times after eating one. Yum! Not super snappy, I liked them softer this time around. With the little bit of sugar on top before baking, they came out with a little bit of a crackle. Perfect for the ginger zing you get.

Finally, I made Neapolitan Cookies. I love the colors of neapolitan ice cream. Ever since my daughter was born I’ve grown to like and truly love pink. I don’t run around in pink track suits, but I’ve been known to wear pink now and then. Instead of jumping in to using the dough in a speckled look, I rolled out sheets like sugar cookies and layered them to chill stacked on top of each other. When they were firm enough I sliced off the jagged edges and swirled those together just enough to make a log for slicing later. The nice straight edged shape was then cut in to two inch wide strips, which were then cut in to 1/4″ pieces and baked. Once cooled, they were tasted, quality control never hurt anyone right? It tasted like the ice cream, minus brain freeze.

In case you are wondering, I have a 6 quart Kitchen Aid stand mixer. I’ve yet to name her, but she is reliable as all get out. For most of these recipes, all but the meringues actually, I used the Beater Blade. I’m not getting paid or free stuff from them, but I feel it’s necessary to praise this product. It is phenominal. If you don’t know what it is, check it out, but I will also explain it here. It is a great paddle attachment with what feels like your standard rubber spatula running along it’s length that scrapes the bowl as it mixes  your dough or whatever you’re mixing. I am in love with how thoroughly it gets all your ingredients incorporated without lumps or random dry or wet spots in the dough or batter. No wasted product is always good. Nothing is stuck to the bottom of the bowl. Truly great product.

Hope you enjoyed this installment of my crafty life. I’m working on a crochet project I hope to write about in the next week or so. Change things up a bit.

Hope everyone has a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Holidays, Happy, healthy and save New Years (if I don’t write before then of course)!

Big hugs to you all.

My Little Super Girl

We recently received a great little craft in the mail. It’s a Create Your Own Designer Dolly kit (5+). We being my daughter and I. I say it was just us because I couldn’t see my husband sitting there with needle and thread putting together a doll. And, let’s face it, I wanted quality time with my munchkin.

So here we go. The craft project is from Seedling. You can find it here.

It was exciting to open the box containing our Create Your Own Designer Doll Kit. Lily is 4 years old and has a great imagination. She was excited to create a new “friend” to play with. She first started drawing the facial features which were embroidered on the doll’s face.

She even included heart shaped “cutie marks” (she’s currently obsessed with My Little Pony, so cutie marks are a must!). Those were made from the provided felt sewn on. While I did want her to be more hands-on with decorating her doll, she didn’t do the sewing. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, I assure  you. I did let her tackle a few stitches. She did pretty ell, but I was afraid she’d stick herself with the needle.

Next up is the hair. She helped with the assembly and chose the hairstyle. She liked how the hair was in the picture on the back. She is the designer afterall.

The dress she designed was simple. Kind of like a pink halter top with a purple belt and Voila! The new dolly friend is made. Lily has also named her friend… Lily. When asked why she picked the same name as her own, Lily replied, “Because it’s the best!” Her favorite part about her new friend is that she’s soooo pretty!

Anyone interested in this great project or others please visit my new friend ImagineToys. They’ve got great learning projects and fun projects for your kids to enjoy! They even have a Wish List for you to add to so you can let family know what your little ones would like to have!

After note: In case you’re wondering… Lily (the girl) is, in fact wearing a sparkly pink Supergirl Costume. She has a thing for dresses and pink. What little girl doesn’t? And yes, there is also a wardrobe change. This project took a few days to complete, but it was well worth the effort.

Thank you to ImagineToys for such a great project, we really enjoyed it!