Sunday, February 28, 2010

Birthday Day Fun

Our main activity for Sammy's birthday was to visit the Austin Children's Museum.  I had planned to write a review-type post of it, but since I don't really have time to do it, I'm just going to share the pictures.

Birthday Boy

Happy Birthday to my sweet Sammy, who turned two this week! Right now Sammy is:
  • talking up a storm, even if we can't understand all of it
  • crazy about his big brother
  • discovering that he can sometimes get a "cookie bite" (his term for all desserts) if the meal goes just right
  • desperately wanting to do a bunch of big kid things like using markers and climbing
  • intense about his pockets and having money in them
  • willing to say "yes, peeeeese!" and "dank-you!" when prompted
  • getting so excited he trembles over things like choo-choo trains and playgrounds
  • such a sweetheart

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Snow Day

I grew up in the desert so I can tell you on behalf of all cities that almost never get snow: it is absolutely required that the whole city freak out on the occasion of a snowfall.

And you must post pictures.

Austin has had a cold winter compared to our usual, and they've threatened snow several times, but this time it actually happened. I have to say we made the most of it! Zack went to school before it started so I was thrilled to hear that his teachers took the kids (all five of 14 that showed up!) out when the big flakes started coming down.

Sammy and I went out in it, but even though there was some accumulation it was still so wet it was more like being out in the rain. He was desperate to be out there, but didn't know what to do and cried. So we came back in, but he cried more. So we went back out but he was getting totally soaked so after a few minutes we came back in. That to led to a full and complete meltdown (heh) and I had to bribe him to snacks to get him to calm down. It wasn't until Zack got home that they both really enjoyed playing.

The big treat of the day was that James' work sent him home early! We all played outside and then went to Chuy's for a late lunch - that's a treat for me! James worked from home while the kids napped but then they capped off the evening with a giant hot wheels track that ran all the way down the stairs, then up to a banister so that the cars flew out into the air like aerial ski jumpers. I ended up at the bottom trying to catch the flying cars. Sammy almost couldn't stand to eat dinner, he was so excited to get back to the car jumping. Good day!

[edited to add: this sounds very chipper, and today I'm feeling anything but. I'm finally giving in to this "cold" that appears to actually be a three-week bacterial upper respiratory infection and starting antibiotics. So far they (or something else?) are really hard on my stomach. Hope the evening is better than the day.]

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How sweet, take a picture

One afternoon last week Zack woke up from his nap cranky and disoriented (which happens a lot) and we ended up just sitting on the couch watching Olympics and snuggling (usually it's much less cordial and someone ends up in tears). He's getting so big that extended cuddling has become all too rare. It was a really sweet time and I told James all about it.

So, when he noticed a similar scene playing out in the late evening another day, he very considerately grabbed the camera, knowing I would love to have a picture.

See what Zack thought of that?

What a little turkey, wrecking my "sweet moment" picture!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Wheat Bread, Five Minute Style

Our family really loved the bread from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It was pretty cool to have fancy restaurant bread on our weeknight table. Oh, and the focaccia was so delicious. But it also seemed a little odd to add extra steps to the dinner preparation process for something that was all white flour. Now, the extra steps are very easy, but no matter how easy, it's still extra. And we currently eat a whole grain bread that we're very happy with. We thought maybe the fresh bread would be a better overall thing for us if it were wheat bread instead of white.

So, I tried the basic wheat bread recipe from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It required an additional ingredient, vital wheat gluten (they talk about what this is in the recipe link), but I was able to find it at my regular grocery store so it wasn't a problem. It was just as easy to make as the white bread, so I felt like things were going quite well. Unfortunately, my family was underwhelmed with the result.

It's nice bread. There isn't anything wrong with it. It's a little dense, a little wheaty, but still good. We just didn't love it. I've only made two loaves over the first week I've had the dough (which is fine, it makes four loaves and keeps two weeks) and we didn't finish either of them. I made french toast out of the leftovers on Saturday morning, which was also fine but not fabulous. I could be wrong but I think it would be a lot better with a little sugar to balance out the wheaty-ness. And I'm not inclined to strike out on my own and experiment on what is essentially a quadruple recipe. I need to check out the other recipes in the book (I'm next on the library waiting list) and talk to some others that have tried it and see if there is something I didn't do quite right or maybe another recipe using this method that we might really love as much as we love the white breads.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Does it look like an After?

Because I think it's still a Before.

A loooong time ago, I tried to organize Zack's art stuff. But it proved too much for my skills. Some of you made good suggestions, which I worked on implementing with some little bins that were then stored in our kitchen bench. It worked ok. On the good side, it is accessible from the kitchen table, since the bench is at the kitchen table, and it's easy to put stuff in it when it's time to clean up. On the bad side, inside the mealtime seating for a five year old boy is a very crumbly place to be.

But here's the thing: no organization seems to last. Organization requires putting things back where they go, and apparently neither Zack nor I is inclined to do that in the inevitable mad rush to sweep the table clean in preparation for dinner. Instead, we were just tossing stuff back in with no order at all. It's a deep bench so things were just buried in the bottom until Zack couldn't get anything out and I didn't want to try. The bench had gotten SO terrible that Zack chose to give up his show for the afternoon to take time for us to clean it out! That quickly became Zack looking at his old art and reading rediscovered magazines while I cleaned it out, but I guess that's how it goes. The bottom was totally disgusting with crumbs and everything else, yuck.

I reorganized the bins and put everything back in and it looks pretty good. We've started using things again that were previously buried, so that's an improvement. But I can't believe it will last.

Maybe we just embrace the cycle and clean it out whenever it gets too terrible to use?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

We're thinking of sending him to Rodeo Clown School

Zack's preschool had Circus Day a few days ago. The parents were rather surprised when we arrived to find all the kids with painted clown faces. As soon as we got home, Zack went and put on his cowboy outfit, saying, "Now I can be the Lone Ranger, because the Lone Ranger wears a mask." I didn't tell him it looked a little more like a Rodeo Clown!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Well, I have no Presidents Day crafts to share, so...

...I'll share another Valentine's Day item!

I found this fun flower tutorial and it was so easy to do, I made some for my family and sent them off for Valentine's Day. I sent them in regular envelope so I hope they survived the mail. I was able to use the regular Tombow Mono Permanent adhesive to make these and the ones I kept seem to be lasting just fine. Since then, I bought the Terrifically Tacky Tape, which is probably even better for a project like this and will certainly be necessary for a fabric version. I dissolved some Perfect Pearls in water and sprayed the finished flower for a little sparkle. Check out the tutorial - it's just as easy as it looks!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentines Day!

Happy Valentines to all!

We spent the day in various family activities - church, lunch with friends and grandparents, naps, geocacheing and pizza for dinner. James and I have a hot date scheduled tomorrow night after the crowds are gone from the restaurants.

I sent little candy machine valentines, made in a class hosted by Cheryl (second photo down), to preschool with Zack. I don't know what the kids thought of them, but Zack was really excited. So, when it was time to make a Valentine for Zack, I thought this over-the-top version would be just the thing. It was made from the packaging for Terrifically Tacky Tape, by Provo Craft, which I picked up at Walmart (this is the same as Sticky Strip or Art Accentz Terrifically Tacky Tape). The tape package has a raised plastic circle, which I cut out and used like Stampin' Up's Sweet Treat Cups, just much bigger. I had to draw the hot air balloon myself, but it was pretty simple. The "Sweet You" is done with stamps. Zack was appropriately enthusiastic. :)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Fun, in a Dip.

Really, we're eating Fun Dip?

I used to love a Fun Dip as my treat at our Bobby Sox Softball games. My mom thought they were ridiculous. Now I'm feeling the mom side of things. I couldn't believe it when one came home in Zack's "box of treasures" as he calls his Valentine mailbox from preschool. He didn't know what to do with it... I'm thinking I should have left it that way!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Check out my fancy-pants lunch!

I had to try another recipe out of the Artisan Bread book. I went for the Onion and Rosemary Focaccia (p. 150). This used the same dough I already made and stored in the fridge but took a couple minutes longer because it has an additional step to saute the onions. Since I already had a pan dirty, I went ahead and sauteed some mushrooms and extra onions to top my salad (of greens from the garden, yum!). It also made a second additional dirty dish because it is baked on a cookie sheet greased with olive oil. But it was still easy and very tasty. It probably took less time than making myself a nacho sampler (Chuck fans, anyone?), which was my original plan for lunch.

I love savory flavors so I like this bread even better than the regular boule. The crust doesn't brown as much but is plenty crispy and I like the cracked pepper on top. Definitely one we will eat again!
(Below: dough before baking, lunch inspired by fancy bread)

(I ate three pieces that size for my lunch, not just that little piece on my plate!)

Friday, February 05, 2010

Artisan Bread: First Five Minute Day

I was inspired to try the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method by a couple of people, including C.Beth and House on Hill Road. (Some of these ladies have been doing the Artisan book for a while and have moved on to the newest book, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, in case you want to check out what all they've been doing.)

Here's my first loaf!

And for my report:

The book calls for some semi-specialty equipment. Nothing too exotic, but I had to make do with what I had, which involved very minor variations (which were helpfully given in the book). First, they specify not to use bleached flour because the dough will be too wet; I'll buy some unbleached but for now I only had bleached. I wanted to start right away so I just went about 1/8c heavier on the flour (based on the advice in the book for too-wet dough). Second, I didn't have a pizza peel (that long handled, pizza-sized wooden spatula that they use for pizza ovens. Is this something people usually have on hand at home?? ) so I used a cutting board and extra cornmeal. Worked fine. I'm not really seeing myself purchasing a pizza peel. Last, I didn't have a baking stone, but I did have a stone dish which was large enough that I could bake a free-form loaf in the center of it. The sides got in the way when I transferred the loaf but not much. If I find I continue this regularly I might buy a baking stone - I've been wanting one anyway. I did have a large storage container with a lid (I used my popcorn bowl) and a good serrated knife already. I think if you don't have all the equipment they recommend it's still worth trying.

I was really curious about that "five minutes". Seems like it could be rather underestimated, but no - I really did have active involvement for five minutes, or even less. This was the most basic recipe so I'm sure some of the variations take longer, but this was super-fast. This book gets full points for keeping its promises on that front!

I also wondered about cleanup. If cooking takes five minutes but cleanup takes twenty, I'm probably not going to do it every day. Well, cleanup was a cinch. They say you can mix the dough in a mixer or food processor but I say it would not be worth the trouble. It took only a couple of minutes to mix it with a wooden spoon in the bowl I was using for storage so my cleanup on mixing day was a grand total of ONE wooden spoon (what? please tell me you don't wash a measuring spoon after you use it for salt). On baking day, I've got the serrated knife to wash and a dusty cutting board (which I'll be dusting off and using to chop veggies for dinner). That's it. The baking stone is something that you season rather than wash with soap and anyway, it just has a little flour and cornmeal on it. That's a really easy cleanup.

And now to the real heart of the matter: YUM. YUM. YUM. It came out just like it was supposed to! Isn't that exciting? The crust is crispy, the inside is soft with just the "custard crumb" character they describe in the book. It's a very simple flavor (there isn't even any oil in the dough) but still really good. The raw dough tasted overly salty but the finished bread is just like a table bread at a nice restaurant. James said, "Wow, that looks like it came from the store!" Zack, Sammy and I (James is sick, poor guy!) ate the entire loaf at dinner.

As far as barriers to doing this regularly, I can only see one: the need to think ahead. You only have to be involved for five minutes, but you need to pull the dough out to rest at least two hours before you want to cut it. Sometimes I just don't get started that early. I'll keep you posted as I continue!

(Below, top to bottom: resting dough, after slashing and right before baking, after baking)

Thursday, February 04, 2010

December Daily: Finished in February

One project I tried out this past year was a December Daily Album. The idea is to do a daily journal of a photo and/or story each day of December in order to capture the flow of everyday life during a magical time of the year. It's an incentive to capture the everyday and to stop and enjoy what's happening now during a time that can be buried under a flurry of busyness.

What does it say that it's finally finished on the fourth day of February?
To be fair, it has been almost finished (just lacking two days) since my scrapbooking retreat and I was just waiting on a few photos from friends, a program from my husband and a photo I forgot to print.

People do all sorts of fabulous things with this idea, some more elaborate than others. I chose a mini-book (the pages are about six inches tall), which is in some ways easier than a full size book. I could plan just a little something, no pressure. I could tuck some memorabilia into the pages with a single punch. On the other hand, when I take a bunch of pictures it's hard to narrow down to one; fitting in a few photos on a small page can be difficult. I made all the little pages plus the little journaling cards (space to write, with the date) in the fall before the holiday craziness started so that did make it easier.

I really like how it turned out. It's a fun little book that I now have sitting with another mini-book in a large pottery bowl on my sofa so that anybody can pick it up and flip through it. I did have some mixed feelings about this project, though. I realized after I got started that people usually do this by printing out single prints daily from their home printer so that they can really do it daily. I don't like the look of home prints so I was picking up a few prints at a time at the photo shop at my local Costco (well at least that was convenient - I am there ridiculously often). This meant that I could think about it daily but not actually do it daily, which seemed a little backwards. Later, it was hard to finish it when I've mentally moved on from December.

It is fun looking at it now, though so although I don't know if I'll do this again, I do like the final product.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Artisan Bread in Progress

I'm trying a new bread thing! I had seen a few people post about Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and was curious, so I requested it at the library. I picked it up today and look what is started!

The idea is that you make up a big batch of dough for the fridge and then each day you can hack off a chunck and bake it. The dough is much more wet than traditional dough so it keeps well and you don't have to knead it. The five minutes is actual hands-on time, so we'll see how it goes. I'll report on the results!