Monday, November 29, 2010

Perfect Sugar Cookies

I always get so many compliments on my sugar cookies, and so many requests for the recipe. I must admit, it is the perfect sugar cookie recipe. I've never had a better one. It's just not fair for me to keep it all to myself! So here it is... adapted from a Food Network Kitchen recipe, with my own tweaks and changes... enjoy!

The BEST Sugar Cookies
3 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 C (2 sticks) softened salted butter
1 1/2 C (scant) white sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
3-4 TBS buttermilk
Sprinkles or icing for decorating
Parchment paper*

Preheat oven to 375F. In a small bowl, sift together dry ingredients and set aside. In a larger bowl, cream butter and sugar, than add egg and extracts. Gradually add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in about 3 batches. Add enough buttermilk to make the dough moist and soft, but not wet. Chill for about 20 minutes to make rolling out easier (or just roll rounded teaspoons of dough between hands and place directly on parchment-covered baking pan for round cookies). Decorate with sprinkles or colored sugar as desired and bake for 8-10 minutes or until just slightly brown around edges (for a crispy sugar cookie, roll dough thin and bake until golden brown all over). Let cookies sit for about 2 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack or clean counter top. Enjoy!

*I highly recommend using parchment paper in your holiday baking if you don't already. It is a wonderful way to keep cookies perfectly shaped and unstuck from any baking tray. It also makes cleanup a snap, and you don't have to grease or 'Pam' anything to prevent sticking!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Focusing on the Home

At the first opportunity after Thanksgiving, I rush up to our spare closet and start pulling out boxes and bins... I spend all summer planning and crafting, and by the time those post-Thanksgiving days roll around, I can't further resist digging out our Christmas decorations and decking our halls! This year, our usual decorations have been enhanced by a few homemade extras, and we are enjoying the slightly more homemade feel to our usuals.

Audrey and Daddy enjoy a morning fire and some dry cereal

Homemade stockings hung with care

The first Christmas cookies of the season

This year, we chose to have a family party to kick off the Christmas-ness of the year. We did a gingerbread house building contest, some carols, a chili cook off, and we concluded the night by putting the ornaments up on our tree.

Gingerbread pieces ready to be assembled

Busy decorators

The winning team, mid-construction

A bit of a mess, but all in good fun

Rory inspects the 4 surviving and still standing houses at the end of the evening

Thanksgiving 2010

What a whirlwind Thanksgiving we have had! Two dinners, two happy gatherings, and two households to deck with post-Thanksgiving fervor for the all-too-present Christmas season! We are so blessed!

The morning of Thanksgiving, I got up early to make up the dough for the bread we were contributing to both families' dinners. Once the rolls were formed and trayed, we packed up the necessities for our over-night visit and hit the road! Our first stop was Mimmy and Pappy's to drop off pie and bread, then on to Nanny's for the majority of the day. 

A pre-meal tea party

Sharing tea with Granddaddy

Playing piano with Nanny

After gorging on turkey, sides, and the best darn dressing there ever was, we laid around and savored each others' company until it was time to head over to Mimmy and Pappy's for Thanksgiving dinner #2.

Pre-dinner football with Mimmy and Uncle Nate

Thanksgiving table set

Mimmy's turkey came out so pretty, we had to take a picture

Dinner #2

On Mimmy's fridge
 This year, we chose to spend the night at Mimmy and Pappy's, despite the fact that their house is in the middle of a renovation. It wasn't a big deal, though, to set up our blow-up mattress and the pack-n-play in the soon-to-be guest bedroom and make ourselves at home!

Audrey and Leeloo play while waiting on breakfast

Watching Charlie Brown with Mimmy and Pappy
The morning after Thanksgiving saw the second year of a new tradition: gathering back at Nanny's house to help decorate for Christmas. This year we walked from Grammy and Gramps' house to Nannys in the crisp fall weather (thanks to the last-minute cold front that prevented our Thanksgiving holiday from feeling like April!), crunching leaves and pointing out birds the whole way.

Audrey crunches leaves on the way to Nanny's house

Diving right in to decorating with the lighting of the tree

Ornaments holding the memories of generations of Christmases

Everyone pitches in

Katy puts up the topper

Once the tree was decorated, the attic unloaded, and the big and heavy stuff handled, everyone parted ways. As we prepared to head home to our own naked tree, lo and behold, a little girl became enthralled by a mysterious Christmas oddity...

Audrey discovers the Hypnotic Christmas House

The Baby Hypnotizing Christmas music box

Girl and music box

We had to peel Audrey away from the musical chime that has entertained many a grandchild at Nanny's house, but eventually we got everyone and everything piled back in Daddy's truck, and we headed on home. What a wonderful holiday, yet again, thanks to our family and the love and dedication of the wonderful cooks and decorators all around us.

Thanksgiving Eve

What a yucky, humid, warm Thanksgiving Eve! It just doesn't seem right to be 24 hours away from one of our most favorite holidays, and be sweating in t-shirts and wishing for air conditioning!

It was humid enough in our house that even Audrey's straightened hair turned curly over night...

After a morning with Aunt KK and an exciting afternoon with an early-to-come-home Daddy, we piled into the truck and went to go pick out our Christmas tree... along the way, a few colorful trees caught our attention...

Perusing the not-yet-unwrapped trees to find the perfect one
Our prize, to sit naked until the post-Thanksgiving decorating

My tired loves

With successful hunting and gathering, preparing and packing handled, we await the big Turkey Day! Gobble, gobble!


I am thankful for so much daily, and in this time of focused thanksgiving, I can't help but notice the bounty we have to give thanks for.

I am thankful for my hubby. I am thankful for our home. I am thankful for the variety of weather and scenery we are able to experience every day. I am thankful for the ability to be home with my Little One, to help her learn and watch her grow. I am thankful for the line of strong men and women in my family that have taught me so much, and whose shared wisdom now enable me to make a strong and healthy home for my family.

I am thankful for the autumn and winter months, which allow for reflection, a winding down, a turning in toward family and togetherness, and a recharging of spirit and body.

But most of all, I am thankful for the Little One who works so hard every day to do everything Mama does, and help in every way she can.

With preparations for the Thanksgiving days underway, the promise of excellent dinners, quality time with family, and thanksgiving during one of our most treasured holidays is fast approaching.... and much anticipated. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Taking the Plunge: Our First Family Road Trip

Travel with young kiddos is tricky. Very tricky. Especially if you're structured (like me), and have sleep trained and scheduled and prioritized baby rhythms and cycles above the planning of anything, road trip or otherwise. It's also tricky because the general public is not very forgiving when it comes to travel-weary toddlers, and no one wants to be "that family."

This week, after deliberation and discussion, we decided to break the seal and take our little three-unit family on a short 36-hour trial road trip down to the San Antonio area. Mama and baby packed up and tagged along with Daddy, who was headed down south for a one night stay on business.

Looking back, we both agree: the trip wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, and it wasn't as easy as Daddy thought it would be. A good middle ground, I guess. It wasn't totally smooth sailing, but the fusses and protestations were fewer than what I had anticipated. Overall, the excitement of the new surroundings and the fun of stepping outside of routine and familiarity far outweighed the harder stuff, and it was a good first road trip.

Headed down the old dusty trail

Audrey's favorite distraction

A patch of fog

Getting in to Hill Country

We arrived at Kyle's job site after right at 4 hours on the road. Audrey fell asleep- no exaggeration- ten minutes before we arrived, but she awoke from her cat nap in a happy mood, and we set out to explore Daddy's current project...

We took a look around the job trailer, then played on the "stairs table" that Audrey found outside while Daddy tended to pre-lunch business.

Beginnings of Church

After lunch, we left Daddy at the job site and headed down into San Antonio to check in to our hotel. We unloaded the gobs of gear that goes with traveling with a toddler, took a short nap, then checked out the indoor pool once Daddy was back for the evening. They say it was heated, but I totally disagree. Audrey was the only one who seemed interested in putting more than her toes in the water...

The pool room was heated, anyway

Warning: 5 1/2 months preggo belly in mom bathing suit alert

Cautiously slipping in

It didn't take long for Audrey to get chilly and blue in the lips, so we ended up heading up to the room after only a short visit to the pool, where we showered off and dressed for an adventure on the Riverwalk!

Three weary travelers leave their mark

The Riverwalk

View from our table at dinner

Waiting for dinner bites

Hard working Daddy

We wandered up and down the Riverwalk, had a nice dinner, some old-fashioned ice cream, and a bag of popcorn for the road, and then called it a night and headed back to the hotel. Our ultra-modern room didn't have a bathtub, so Audrey got to take a shower like a big girl. By bed time, she was a tired little lady, and we read a couple of bedtime books and tucked her in to her pack-n-play.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star book

Audrey's sleepin' nook the next morning

Waiting on Mama and Daddy to get ready for breakfast

Our sleepin' nook

We had a light breakfast, courtesy of our hotel, then packed the car and headed back to the job site for the extent of a meeting. We enjoyed the perfect weather and multiple deer sightings as we waited on Daddy...

The church playground

Counting rocks

Audrey's first see-saw experience
Investigating moss and playing in "leaps" aka leaves

Well-loved swings

Audrey goes Goldilocks on the swings, and tries them all until she finds that the blue one is juuuust riight

Playing on the job site, waiting on Daddy

Gathering treasures

We packed up and headed home around 10:30am, stopped at the famous Bluebonnet Cafe for lunch, and had a peaceful drive the rest of the way, pulling in to our driveway just before 4pm. We were tired and road-weary, but happy to see familiar things and to stretch our legs. Overall, the trip was a success, and because of it we won't be quite as intimidated to do it again sometime in the near distant future.