Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Want Candy

Munch has never been trick-or-treating before (past her bedtime), so when I heard that the downtown stores would be welcoming kids on Saturday afternoon I knew it would be the perfect introduction to Halloween. Munch didn't quite know what was going on as we started walking down the street, but she knew she HAD to have one of the balloons that were being distributed by the bank. After getting a balloon, she started collecting her candy.

Her first few pieces got her excited because "it's so pretty"- Munch actually had no idea what "candy" actually was- we never referred to it that way, so she never associated it with the random jellybeans and Hershey's kisses she may have encountered in the past. We let her pick one thing for the way home- she chose a lollipop because she'd been so curious about them.

When we got home she laid out all her candy and admired it. She counted it, organized it, and admired it again. The different colors and wrappers were "beautiful".

It's been a couple of days now, and she checks on her candy daily. She sorts it and lays it out in neat rows. It's funny, she still isn't particularly interested in eating it, but she sure is proud of it!

Monday, October 13, 2008

We Love Gymbo!

When one door closes, another one opens...It's time for us to say goodbye to Gymbo. We started Gymboree Play & Music classes shortly after I returned to work to give Munch and AudioDad a fun activity to do during the week. Munch loved the bubbles, the music, and the climbing structures. She loved the parachute, getting Gymbo stamps at the end of class, and the make-believe play that her teacher introduced. She'd look for ducks and drop pennies into the fountain, and as a special treat when I wasn't working, would sometimes get to share a green tea Jamba smoothie and some Pirate's Booty with me as an after-class snack. She'd come home and proceed to act out everything she'd just learned, with me, AudioDad, and a few stuffed friends as her students. But she's starting to outgrow the classes, and she's ready for something more independent (from us), so in a couple of weeks we'll be starting gymnastics classes. We've already stopped by the center to check things out. Munch loved seeing the older girls do cartwheels and flips and was ready to run onto the gymnastics floor right then and there. So thank you, Gymbo and teacher Nicolette- we'll miss you!

We're Going on a Pumpkin Hunt...

Halloween is quickly sneaking up on us, so I figured we'd better get our pumpkins before it's too late. We headed to our favorite farm in Dixon, where we also go to cut our Christmas trees. It was a beautiful day, but the wind was chilly! We went on a tractor-pulled wagon ride, felt our way through the totally dark, hay bale maze (Munch loved it so much, we went through several times), wandered through their new Christmas tree maze (looks like it will take a while to grow in), and painted our pumpkins. Unfortunately, it went downhill from there- Munch got tired and cranky and we discovered she was burning up with a fever, so we quickly headed for home.
PS The Munchkin's fine- she just falls apart for a few days whenever she has a growth spurt!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

It's Your Special Day- The Red Plate

A few years ago, I received a gift from a co-worker friend. I was teaching her son at the time. It was a place setting of red stoneware dishes. In the note she attached, she explained the "Red plate" tradition in her family. Whenever it was someone's special day, be it a birthday, an achievement at work or school, or any other important event, they got use use the red dishes at mealtime. It was really a thoughtful gesture, and a great idea. The dishes got tucked away though, and by the time an occasion did roll around, I totally forgot to bring them out.
Fast forward to now, when starting traditions as a family has more meaning, and Munch is old enough to "get it". She shares so well and enjoys celebrating events, so when I did come across the red plates again, I brought them out. The occasion was Munch's first day of preschool without me, not really a big deal- she went with Grandma (it's set up as a "Mommy & Me" type of program for 2-year olds) and had gone to summer session with me a few months ago. But I grabbed the opportunity- I figure if I wait for some really big deal, those plates will never leave the cupboard, and isn't it those small things that we remember anyway?

If you're interested in a set of red dishes, turns out it's a tradition that dates back to colonial times and the Waechtersbach company makes ones you can order online. Googling "red plate tradition" brought up several links to people's stories about their memories of the red plate and places where you can order the red dinner plate with white lettering: You Are Special Today. You can even find a heart shaped one. But I prefer my own plain, unmessaged set (doesn't seem as hokey). And I plan to bring them out again really soon: AudioDad's away on a business trip- gone just a couple of hours now and we already miss him terribly- I think the red plate will be just the thing for his "welcome home" dinner.


After a recent dinner with our very good friends Monica & Chris (during which we gently ribbed AudioDad over his workplace skillfulness in team building), I knew it was a sign for me to try a recipe I've been curious about and that had been all the talk on the Chow message boards- Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies. Basically, they're a dark chocolate cookie with sea salt. People raved about them during the last holiday season as they're a fairly easy slice and bake recipe, great to have on hand in the freezer. While I used sea salt- more commonly available in grocery stores- the recipe actually calls for fleur de sel. And the extra expense ($26 for 7oz. at Dean & DeLuca) of this specialty salt is supposedly worth it (I'll pick some up on my next visit to Williams-Sonoma or Dean & DeLuca to try it.)
As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been fine-tuning this recipe over the last month. The first batch was nice- a sandy-textured, deep chocolate French sable. In my second batch, I decided to add espresso powder and chocolate extract for a more complex flavor. I also added more salt. But unlike the first batch, this one spread more, making a thinner, crisper cookie. In hunting around my piles of recipes, it turns out I had the original Pierre Herme chocolate-chocolate chip cookie recipe tucked away- the one that the World Peace cookie was based upon. So I used it, incorporating the changes I made with the second batch, and now I've got a cookie I really like. It's definitely a cookie for grown-up tastes, but be sure to have a cold glass of milk handy!

Chocolate-Espresso Sables with Sea Salt
2 2/3 c. flour
2/3 c. unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa (I used Droste)
2 tsp. baking soda
2 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened (I used a European-style butter, but it didn't seem to make a difference)
1 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
1 heaping tbsp. espresso powder
2 tsp. fine sea salt (2 1/2 tsp. if you use fleur de sel)
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. chocolate extract
10 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used a 9.75 oz. Scharffenberger semisweet bar- using a serrated knife gives you a finer chop with chocolate shavings, so the chilled log will be easier to slice)

Sift the flour, cocoa, and baking soda into a medium bowl. In another bowl, cream the butter then beat in the sugars, espresso powder, sea salt, and extracts. Mix in the dry ingredients (the dough will be slightly crumbly), then mix in the chocolate. Divide the dough into 3 batches and shape into logs about 1 1/2-inch thick (about the diameter of a small can of tomato paste). I also dust my board with a little bit of cocoa to keep the dough from sticking. Wrap the logs in plastic or waxed paper and chill a couple of hours until firm.
When you're ready to bake, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the dough logs about 3/8-inch thick (not too thinly, unless you prefer them crisper) and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 12 minutes. Since these don't spread much, you can get another row of cookies (20 total) on the sheet. Cool on the pan for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

I'm a Big Girl!

We're not quite sure when it happened, but Munch is just not a little kid anymore. She sure wasn't a baby for long either, but we were expecting the toddler stage to last at least a bit longer. Maybe it's her height- she passed the 3 foot mark long ago- people easily mistake her for an older kid. Maybe it's her independence- she certainly has never been clingy and happily waves us away when she goes to daycare. But one day it happened- "I'm a big girl!" she declared, and everything changed. She grew (again!), insists on using the potty by herself (and shuts the door for privacy), and has decided that babies (anyone under two) cannot be her friends any longer. But the thing that really did it was the dressing up (she chooses her own clothes and usually mine too) and the iPod- yes, the Munchkin has her own playlist of favorite songs. And our morning commute now finds me no longer having to entertain her- she's plugged in and sings away!

Here's what she's listening to:

Friday, October 3, 2008

It's Fall!

Around here, the first few days of Fall bring 80+ degree temperatures. We stick with our shorts, t-shirts, and sundresses. The air conditioner kicks in when it gets really toasty. So when the weather finally does cool down, it's a welcome change. Anticipating a drop in temperature, overcast skies, and the first showers to start tonight, I dragged out the slow-cooker and got a nice beef stew started. When Munch and I got home, we made a double batch of pumpkin biscuits to go with it- gotta have leftovers to freeze for breakfasts on the go! Now all I need are my flannels and TiVo and we're ready to hibernate! (actually my DVR is no longer TiVo, but my heart still skips a beat when I hear that "boop-boop")

Pumpkin Biscuits (From Cooking Light- my change was to add a little more sugar so they would be more like my favorite pumpkin scone from Starbucks, but not as sweet since we're skipping the glaze/icing. However, Munch & I do gobble them up warm with butter & a drizzle of honey!)

2 c. flour
4 tbs. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
4 tbsp. cold butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 c. buttermilk, fat-free
1/2 c. canned pumpkin

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Use a pastry blender to cut in the butter until the butter pieces are small and the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir the buttermilk and pumpkin together before adding to the flour mixture. Stir until just combined, then turn onto a floured board and knead 5-8 times (just barely not sticky). Pat out until the dough is about 1/2-inch thick. Use a small (about 2-3 inches) biscuit cutter to make about a dozen biscuits. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 11-15 minutes, until golden.
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