Wednesday, January 31, 2018

How to Spend a Beautiful Day

Good bye January, thanks for a few beautiful days in a row that reminded us that Spring is coming! That late Winter sunshine sure feels good. Here's hoping February follows your example!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Sick Day and Petit Fours

My poor little guy got sent home from school Thursday afternoon, because as his excellent teacher observed, "He's just not himself and he's not getting anything done, I think he doesn't feel well." Weeell, she was right, and later that afternoon (after coming home) Hen started throwing up. He'd caught that stomach bug going around his campus.

Thankfully his nausea didn't last long and we were going into a weekend, so his lethargy and recovery could take their own course. At our house, that meant lots of warm baths with Epsom salts and lavender, pjs all day long, and 'Cake Wars' nonstop for almost 3 days in a row.

What that meant for me was by Saturday afternoon (and about the 90th episode of 'Cake Wars'), Mama wanted cake. Like, now.

To be honest, I've never been that successful at making "regular" cakes from scratch- they always turn out dry no matter what the recipe. However I picked up a few little hints as to what I might have been doing wrong in the past from all those cake baking shows, and I gave it another go. Just in case I got it wrong again, though, I set myself up in advance for a recovery strategy- I was going to make petit fours.

I'm happy to say my cake did not turn out dry, and the petit fours were really fun and tasty! So here is my first successfully moist "regular" cake recipe, with all the extra stuff I did to make them fancy:

Vanilla-Almond Petit Fours with Prickly Pear Jelly Filling
and Almond Glaze
Adapted from the Swan's Down recipe for 1-2-3-4 Pound Cake
(Makes at least 2 dozen petit fours or more, depending on how you cut them)

For the cake:
2 sticks salted butter, at room temp
2 cups (scant) plain ol' sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
3 cups cake flour, sifted together with
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

For the glaze:
1 1/2 TBS light corn syrup
1 tsp almond extract
~4 cups powdered sugar
boiling water

For the prickly pear jelly:
prickly pear juice
lemon juice
Pomona's Universal Pectin
(I think strawberry preserves, raspberry preserves, or lemon curd would have been good, too, but prickly pear jelly is what we had on hand, and we weren't getting out that day!)

Preaheat oven to 350F and spray a sheet pan with nonstick spray, then line with parchment paper. Cream butter and sugar, then add eggs one at a time and beat until mixture is very light and fluffy (the more air the better). Add extracts. While mixer is on lowest setting, slowly add 1/3 flour mixture, followed by 1/3 of the milk, and alternate the two until all is incorporated. Do not over mix! Spread batter onto parchment-lined sheet pan and bake on middle rack for ~20 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool completely before moving on to next step!

Once cake is cool, trim any rounded or sloped edges so you have a very sharp rectangle (this will be impossible if you try while the cake is still warm). Cut resulting rectangle in half, and spread one half with prickly pear (or other flavor) jelly/jam (I made the prickly pear jelly by first making prickly pear juice, then following Pomona's directions for reduced-sugar jelly). Place other half of cake on top and make sure edges are straight and square (trim more if needed), then place in freezer for ~20-30 mins or until pretty darn firm. 

While cake is in freezer, get the royal icing ready by putting powdered sugar, corn syrup, and extract in a mixer on lowest setting (with wire whisk attachment), and slowly trickle in boiling water until a fairly thin glaze is achieved (the amount of water needed will be different for everyone; you basically just need to make sure the glaze is thin enough to pour over petit fours without having to be spread, but not so runny that it immediately soaks into the cake).  

Once cake is firm, remove from freezer and with a serrated knife carefully cut into desired shapes. I cut mine into a grid of squares, then cut about half the squares diagonally across to make triangles and kept the others as squares for the fun of it. I don't think there's a wrong shape, you just want to make sure the shape/size you make only requires a few bites per piece. 

To finish, roll out a few sheets of waxed paper and using a fork and a spoon, glaze the petit fours: place petit four on the ends of the tines of the fork, hold it over the bowl of glaze, and spoon the glaze over the cake. Make sure each side is completely covered with glaze all the way down to the bottom, allow excess to drip away as best you can, then transfer to waxed paper and slide off the fork using the back edge of a butter knife. Don't worry if you drop a few into the glaze, just pick them out and let them drip and keep going!

I put some colored sugar on top of mine for fun, but you could top these with anything you like (designs in thicker colored icing, sprinkles, fresh fruit...) or leave them completely plain. 

Allow the glaze to dry before attempting to eat one or even cover with plastic wrap! 

These fancy little cakes are being picked off pretty quickly, and I'm proud to say everyone so far has given them the thumbs-up. I think, if I had presented these to the baking contest judges, I would have made it to the next round............... or at least that's what Henry said. I'll definitely be trying this recipe again!

Monday, January 29, 2018

100th Day

Our school has traditionally allowed kiddos to dress up like little old people for the 100th day of school- which was cute, but kinda lame- and this year they have finally switched to something different: DIY shirts representing '100' (or decorated to celebrate 100 school days). I am so much more enthusiastic about this new tradition, even though my Littles made cute centenarians...

...I think t-shirts are going to be way more fun! Because Bubba ended up being sick through Friday and part of the weekend, we chose to do something pretty easy and straightforward for the sake of being ready to wear on Monday. Initials, divided into 10 sections, with 10 different colored dots in each section. Hen did most of them himself, but Mama finished up for him since he wasn't feeling his best. Audrey did hers all herself, carefully selecting the colors (plus glitter) for each section.

Since it was a chilly morning, they each wore their shirt over something warm (chosen for what the undershirt could add to the colors of the initials, of course), and proudly marched into school with 100 dots they dotted themselves.

Loving this new tradition!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

In the Garden

This past weekend we got a 48-hour window of warmer weather, so we all charged out to the various areas around the yard that called for our attention- the hubs went down the driveway to cut some overhanging limbs, the kiddos took Suka on another tour of the field (including a muddy stop at the pond), and I made a beeline for my dull and sleeping garden.

I've been visiting my beds periodically with soiled chicken coop hay (for mulch), but those messy, chilly visits were quick and to the point. There was still the need to clear out the last of the naked skeletons of the victims of the first hard freeze, and I also had a little project waiting my attention (and the use of the drill and a few extra-long screws)...

I'm sure I got this "garden storage mailbox" idea from Pinterest or a gardening blog or something, so I can't take credit for the original idea, but when I came across this treasure in the thrift store this past fall for $2 I knew exactly what to do with it! No matter that I had no idea when I'd actually be putting it up. I knew it could wait patiently for me to get around to it. I'm so glad I didn't pass this baby by that day en lieu of better timing, I just love it out there now, being all useful and handy!

Once I got my mailbox installed, the kids and I finished clearing out the few remaining plants hanging on here and there in the otherwise deserted beds, and in the process found these:

Now, I had some seriously mutant-looking radishes and beets by the end of the summer, too... but this carrot was bizarre. All the little 'normal'-looking carrots in that pile were actually sprouting off of that big lumpy one at the top left of the cutting board. So what you're looking at in that photo is just two carrots. This was the other one:

...which I think might have been the only oxheart carrot to germinate from the bonus pack of seeds I was sent with last years' seed order. Either that or it was a second, less alarming mutant Kuroda. Either way all of them ended up in the stock pot. 

After our good cleanup, the only thing left out there now is our garlic, and hopefully soon we'll be pulling that too!

That little bit of green left out in the midst of all that brown... it really drives home the growing excitement we're feeling about the oncoming warmer weather. We're all getting excited for the beginning spring out in the garden!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Right Now

Right now, I'm...

...doing a lot of baking, mainly because I'm cold! These crazy temperatures have me drawn to the warmth of the oven almost every day (much to the dismay of the low-carb dieter in the fam), and today will be no exception. I'm thinking apple pie to close this week maybe... with a slice of cheese and a glass of wine tonight after everyone goes to bed? I think I just convinced myself. (Speaking of baking, I got tired of the last of the eggnog taking up space in my fridge so I dumped it all into cinnamon swirl bread, and y'all, put that in your notes to try, it turned out great! I'm not a fan of store-bought eggnog, but in bread it's subtle, makes for a very soft crumb, and goes so well with the cinnamon. Just sub eggnog for the liquid in your fav bread recipe. Do it!)
...vibing with housewives of yesteryear as I find myself becoming quite proficient at banking coals in the wood stove and using them to rekindle a fire the following morning. It's becoming a meditative part of my morning routine- kids go to school, house is quiet and dark, I get the ash bucket out and set to work... I'll be sad when fireplace weather leaves us.
...feeling thankful that all my chicken girls pulled through earlier this week when we went from 61*F to 7*F in less than 24 hours. I know Texans get teased about having a low tolerance for "winter weather," but come on, show me someone from the North who could regularly flip-flop like that during the winter, and also take in stride a day that might hit 105*+ only a few months later. I think we deserve a little slack! (I'm fretting about my bees, though, and hoping they're as tough as my feathered ladies... I'll be checking on them as soon as the temps are warm enough.)
...smiling at my rapidly-growing Suka who follows me everywhere- so eager to please- and realizing that she's losing her puppy fuzz and getting a shadow of a German Shepherd saddle! Looking back at our first photos of her, it's amazing how she's changed... but she still snores like an old man, has the worst dog farts, chews up unfortunate and forgotten balls left out by her littler people, and in general is becoming quite an irreplaceable and terribly loved member of our family.

Right now I'm looking forward to the warm-up that's supposed to be coming this weekend, and the chance we'll have to do some checking in on our outside creatures and projects. In the meantime, though, to hearth and home I'll stay because baby, it's still cold outside!

Wishing all a warm wrap-up to the week and a good weekend to come! Happy Friday!

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Refill

We ran out of (split and ready) firewood right before this most recent cold front, and it was a sad day when the sleet/snow mix started falling on Wednesday and our fireplaces were dark and cold. So this weekend, when we woke up to sunlight streaming in through the windows and read that we'd be getting up out of the 30's for a bit, we bundled up and got to work on a refill! Everyone pitched in, and after the first load or two was split we weren't even feeling the windchill anymore. It's true what they say- firewood heats you twice; once when you work to prepare it, and the second time when you actually burn it!

I'm happy to say that our wood shed is now filled to the rafters, the indoor rack is filled to the top, and we've had a fire in the fireplace almost constantly since Saturday afternoon... not to mention the driveway is now safe and clear of those dead oaks. If I do say so myself, we did good this weekend!

Sunday, January 14, 2018


We're taking it slow today after a long workday yesterday out in the chilly wind and weather! But we have a fire going now, we've had lots of popcorn and warm drinks, and everyone is taking full advantage of catching up on their reading and indoor play! It's soooooooo good to indulge in a lazy Sunday every once-in-a-while. Amirite?

Happy weekending!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Clean and Purge

This time of year seems to be the harbinger of cleaning, organizing, and purging urges... or so it would seem. Everywhere I look I see piles of clutter, forgotten closets, wasted cabinet space, and stuff that has outlived it's usefulness...

...and this morning I found the motivation to tackle three such offenders in one go. The main focus was my office, whose spaces were beyond filled and muddled and whose overflow was inescapably all up in my eyeballs every time I passed through. To do what I wanted to do in there, I had to first empty out a forgotten "junk" cabinet so our awkwardly-placed and underutilized lowboy could be emptied into it. I then moved the lowboy into my office (replacing the media cabinet thing that held my printer and such), and proceeded to tear everything apart...

...and then- finally- I put everything back together again.

I hope some day I can find a better place for that ugly filing cabinet... but for now it stays tucked in it's corner. I really like my lowboy arrangement, and happily everything worthy of keeping found a place in this new order.

We even have a functional, accessible 'adult' game cabinet now, too, with a little spare room to boot! (The kid games are on the other side)

Now, on to the next trouble area I go....................