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Archive for the ‘holidays’ Category


No Halloween costumes for the boys, but they don’t need any. They can be anything …

Like a lion …

 

Rawr!

Or Phantom of the Opera

Or a hurricane

 

Hurricane Loki

Taste tester

yum.

Or the devil.

I've come to take your soul!

A Vampire

Or an 0tter

Whatever you dress up as, have a safe and Happy Halloween!

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It’s Mother’s Day and I wanted to give a little shout-out to the two bravest women in my life: My mom and my grandma.

My mom and me

My mom has always been a spitfire. Raising two kids with my dad in the military and gone what seemed like more often than not, she had to be. Course, she was a Marine herself, so she knew how to keep us in line.

Mom at GI Jane day

She taught me independence and drilled into me that I needed to be able to take care of myself, no matter what. She taught me to be smart with money and yet, also how to shop like it was my job. (If it’s not on sale, you don’t need it. And if it is on sale, you might as well get 3. Different colors, of course.)

Mom on my wedding day

She’s beautiful, creative and smart – even flirting with the idea of going to college to use my dad’s GI bill. (She’s said maybe business, to which I told her she could take care of my business and leave the fun stuff for me.)

Mom modeling inaugural ball gown of Francis Cleveland

She takes care of everyone – whether it’s my sister or I who need a quick pick-me-up, my grandparents who visited for numerous winters, a neighbor who just moved in (some kind of baked good was usually in order), or a fellow military wife who just needed some help while her husband was gone.

My mom

My mom, she does it all. And now, she’s battling breast cancer. She opted for a double mastectomy and reconstruction last July and has since completed one round of chemo, had a hysterectomy and a few other “fun” medical adventures. She’s now on Herceptin for a while and the thing that really amazes me is that she’s done it all with a smile and a laugh – even when we joked about her fuzzy head. (My dad will probably disagree with me, as he’s been there while I’ve been 3,000 miles away and only talked to her a few times a week … but …. )

When I grow up, I want to be as accepting of all of life’s hurdles as my mom.

My grandma while visiting me in SD

My grandma, well, she’s quite the spitfire, too. She’s my mom’s mom, so at least we know it runs in the family. (The women in my family should probably come with a warning label.) My grandma and I have a special relationship. My mom and I lived with her for the first 5 years of my life, and really, my grandma sometimes feels more like my mom. She loves unconditionally, but sure won’t hesitate to tell you when she thinks you’re doing something stupid. But, even after you go ahead and do it anyway, she still loves you and lets you know it.

My grandma

She’s always been there for me – she’s driven from Michigan to Virginia for Christmas when I was a kid, kept my sister and I for entire summers, surprised me with visits during college, was my “laundry fairy” when I came home from college, was with me when I moved to South Dakota, flew to Vegas for my wedding, and let my cats have run of the house when we visit her home.

Me and my grandma on my wedding day

She’s been through a lot the last 10 years – two strokes (and possibly many more mini-strokes), a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, surgery to remove the cancer, chemo, and now, the return of the cancer.

Me and my grandparents at my college graduation

When she had the two strokes, I was fortunate enough to be going to college right next to the hospital where she was staying. I think I spent more time in the hospital than I did my dorm room or my classes that semester. When the cancer diagnosis came down and surgery was scheduled to take place in Minnesota, I drove up for a surprise visit. And now, I’ve traveled up to visit (with the boys) twice since hospice has been called in.

My grandma on my wedding day

The thing that amazes me about my grandma is her ability to push on and conquer each day, even when I can see how tired she is. When she was in the hospital for her strokes, I was amazed that she could laugh at herself at times and push aside her pride when she knew she needed help. Now, even when she’s ready to go – even when the rest of us want to hold on so bad – she still gets fired up about somethings, make me laugh about something else, wield demands like the queen we joke she is, and always, always love us with her whole being.

When I grow up, I want half the strength my grandma has.

Since I’m unable to be with either of these two very important women, I just want them to know: I’m proud of you. I miss you. I love you.

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This year was the first year I made some goals strictly related to food, and I am kind of shocked when I look back and realize that I accomplished all of them. It’s time to think about the next year, so here are my top 3 foodie goals for 2010:

  1. Continue exploring new grains – In 2009, I experimented with quinoa, lentils, millet and kasha. Now it’s time to check out a few more, like polenta, barley and aramath.
  2. Try one recipe a week from a cooking magazine – I’m addicted to cooking magazines. I’ve saved almost 1,500 with Project Foodie and think it’s time to actually start TRYING them, not just collecting them.
  3. Experiment with different dietary theories – As a student at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, I’m learning about a lot of different dietary theories. In order to help others find one that’s best for them, I want to try some of them out for a few weeks. Specifically, I want to try more raw foods, vegetarianism and veganism. I’m not saying that I’ll convert completely, but check them out and see how I feel eating certain ways.

What are your goals for 2010?

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I volunteered to be a host for Operation Baking Gals, Round 15! I’m so excited to be a part of this amazing group.

Operation Baking Gals is a group that sends packages to troops serving overseas. When I heard there weren’t enough people to host soldiers, I knew I had to volunteer. It’s hard enough being away from your family and loved ones, but to be so far away during the holidays is even worse. This is just ONE way to help make a difference for our soldiers. Find out more by visiting Operation Baking Gals. The best part is for each soldier, up to 20 people can join and volunteer to send a care packages – it doesn’t have to be baked goods! Most of these soldiers share with their group and it really shows them how much we care about them, even if we don’t know them personally.

Our soldier’s name is Jonan and his super sweet wife, Rachel, nominated him. I’ve traded a few e-mails with her and found that Jonan loves peanut butter and chocolate, which led me to buy the biggest jar of Skippy I could find!

If you’d like to join me, here’s how to sign up:

  1. Go to http://www.bakinggals.com/ and Log In or Create a New Account (If you’re creating a new account, it can take up to a day to be approved.)
  2. Go to Join a Round 15 Team.
  3. Join Team Santa’s Little Baker (if the team is full at 20 people signed up, please consider signing up for another team, or sign up for another anyway! You can read about each soldier by clicking on Meet the Round 15 Teams.)
  4. Wait for an e-mail with the shipping address.

If you have any questions, please visit the Operation Baking Gals FAQ, or leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you.

Please consider helping bring some holiday cheer to a soldier far from home. If you know of anyone serving overseas who’d like to receive packages, please let me know!

And don’t forget, you can get flat-rate shipping boxes delivered from the post office for free by clicking here. They even say “America Supports You.” Plus, they ship for $11.95! (You do have to order a package of 10 – but you don’t pay until you mail them, and hopefully you’ll join us again to support our troops!)

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My second dish that utilizes the free sample of Tropical Traditions gold standard virgin coconut oil is baked potatoes. There’s really nothing to this dish and it is delicious. I got the idea from Ericalea at Pioneer Woman’s Tasty Kitchen.

 

coconut oil potatoes

 

Coconut oil potatoes

3 medium yukon gold or russet potatoes
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1 tsp. sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 425° F. Wash and scrub potatoes to remove dirt. Remove any undesirable spots with a knife. Cut potatoes in half lengthwise.

2. Pour the coconut oil into the bottom of a 8×8-inch pan. Sprinkle with Kosher or Sea salt. Place the potatoes, cut side down, in the bottom of the pan.

3. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 1 hour, or until the cut sides of the potatoes are browned and the flesh is soft. To serve, cut the potato open through the skin and spread with a little butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and dab on a bit of sour cream.

I loved this recipe so much that I used it again with purple potatoes chopped into bite size pieces and sprinkled with Yah’s Best seasonings.

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The kind people at Zico Pure Premium Coconut Water recently sent me a package of their coconut water to sample and review. When I was first contacted, I checked out the site and really appreciated that they included ways of using the coconut water into drinks or smoothies. (FYI, it’s pronounced “zee-ko” – yeah, I was saying it wrong too.)

The first thing I noticed about the Zico water was that all three flavors were clear, meaning no artificial (or natural) colorings. That made me happy. The fewer the ingredients the better! Here’s my review of all three flavors:

Natural:

I sipped this one first right out of the box, then included it in a smoothie per one of the recipes online. I really, really liked using coconut water in the smoothie. The best part was that I drank half right away, then the other half the next day and all I had to do was shake it up a bit because it separated. It didn’t taste any different than the day before. Plain it was great – it didn’t have a super strong coconut flavor, so that was a bonus to me.

Zico blueberry strawberry banana smoothie

Mango:

Again, I sipped this straight from the box and liked it. This flavor was probably my least favorite and I’m not sure why, really. I think I’m just not a huge mango-flavored person. I did make a martini out of this with one of the recipes on the site. It was good, but a bit heavy on the booze for me. Yes, I know, it’s a martini and it’s supposed to be heavy on the booze, but still. Again, since this was clear, the martini was clear – although on the site, it’s kind of a pink color.

Zico mango martini

Passion fruit & orange:

This was by far my favorite. I drank this straight up. It reminded me of Tang – only watered down a bit and healthier. This is the one I’d buy in the liter container. I really did love this one. I have another bottle I’m going to try with a slice of orange as they recommend on the web site.

Zico passionfruit (photo courtesy of Zico)

The only problem – it’s not sold in stores here. The closest store is in Milwaukee or Madison, both an hour and a half away. But, I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to picking some up when I find myself in that area.

**Disclaimer** This product was provided to me for free to review. This review is my honest opinion and I was in no way compensated in order to review it favorably.

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Tiramisu cake


This was the other dish I brought to Christmas dinner at our friends Laura & Tony’s house. While it didn’t turn out quite the way I wanted it to, it still tasted great. Basically, I wanted the cake part from this recipe at Smitten Kitchen, and the marscapone mix from this recipe at Sugar & Spice. I was hoping the marscapone mix would set up enough to be like a frosting, but it wasn’t … and the cake didn’t absorbe enough of the coffee mix … but it sure was good! I brought along the extra marscapone mix so people could add if they wanted – which I did … the cake was a bit dry (because it didn’t soak up a lot of the coffee mix), but it still was good.

Next time, I think I’ll stick with one recipe and not try to combine two. 🙂

Did I mention it was good?

tiramisu cake

tiramisu cake

Tiramisu cake
Compiled from recipes from Chelly at Sugar & Spice and Deb at Smitten Kitchen

For the cake layers: (From Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk

For the coffee mix:
2-1/2 cups strong brewed coffee, room temperature
1-1/2 Tablespoons instant espresso granules
9 tablespoons dark rum, divided [I substituted Starbucks coffee liquor and cut the amount down to 4-1/2 tablespoons]

For the marscapone mix:
6 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1-1/2 pounds mascarpone
3/4 cup cold heavy cream

For the top of the cake:
3-1/2 Tablespoons cocoa, preferably Dutch-processed
1/4 cup grated semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (optional)

Getting ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9×2 inch round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess, and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To make the cake:
1. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

2. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, and then the yolk, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla; don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, adding the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the milk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.

3. Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be golden and springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the centers will come out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them, and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right-side up.

To make the coffee mix:
Stir coffee, espresso, and 5 tablespoons rum [2-1/2 tablespoons Kahlua] in a bowl until espresso dissolves; set aside.

To make the marscapone mix:
1. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat yolks at low speed until just combined. Add sugar and salt and beat at medium-high speed until pale yellow, 1-1/2 to 2 minutes, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula once or twice. Add remaining 4 tablespoons rum [2 tablespoons Starbucks coffee liquor] and beat at medium speed until just combined, 20 to 30 seconds; scrape bowl. Add mascarpone and beat at medium speed until no lumps remain, 30 to 45 seconds, scraping down bowl once or twice. Transfer mixture to large bowl and set aside.

2. In now-empty mixer bowl (no need to clean bowl), beat cream at medium speed until frothy, 1 to 1-1/2 minutes. Increase speed to high and continue to beat until cream holds stiff peaks, 1 to 1-1/2 minutes longer. Using rubber spatula, fold one-third of whipped cream into mascarpone mixture to lighten, then gently fold in remaining whipped cream until no white streaks remain. Set mascarpone mixture aside.

To assemble:
1. Poke holes in one of the cakes and pour over part of the coffee mix.

2. Pour some of the marscapone mix on top of the cake and spread evenly. Dust with cocoa powder.

3. Put the second cake layer on the counter and soak the top of it with more of the coffee mix, then turn the layer over and position it, soaked side down, over the filling. Soak the top of the cake with the remaining mix.

4. Pour more marscapone mix over top of cake and spread evenly. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or until ready to eat.

5. Dust with cocoa powder and shaved chocolate just before serving.

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