Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November Highlights


1. I completed NaBloPoMo with an average of 1.03 posts per day. It was really fun posting often, and although I won't be able to keep it up as much as I did, it did make me want to be more consistent with my blogging.

2. Thanksgiving was wonderful. It was probably one of my favorite years, as I was able to enjoy two fantastic, minimal rush days.

3. The treats I tried making this month all turned out: the gingerbread cake, the pop-overs, the funnel cakes (attempt #2 worked better), and the cinnamon rolls. It really is motivating to actually have things taste good, so I'm excited to try more yummy baked items in December.

4. Decorating for Christmas has been fun, especially since I scored on last year's after-Christmas sales, so I had a lot of neat little trinkets for this year. My favorites are the tiny bird ornaments hanging from a tree branch I spray painted silver.

5. We were able to see lots of friends this month, including John and Kelly. Yay for wonderful friendships!

6. My sister Chelsea returned home, and Rob's brother Jeff visited. Yay for homecomings!

7. I sold my first craft item, my pretty sunny bird mobile.

8. We saw Harry Potter and loved it!

9. We watched the weather turn from warm to icy in a matter of weeks. So far, the plants have survived. Hopefully they make it through December.

10. Although there was a lot of sorrow this month, we felt God's presence and found comfort in His Word.

What about you? What were your highlights?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Which cat is real?

You only get one vote.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

It has come.

The tree is up, the lights are on, the halls are decked, and the delicious holiday candle Jessica gave me is lit.

Christmas is here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cinnamon Rolls

Our trips to Pismo always included two things: clam chowder from Splash Cafe and a cinnamon roll from Old West Cinnamon Rolls. You really can't beat either of them anywhere else...until now, perhaps. These homemade cinnamon rolls from America's Test Kitchen just might make Old West have a run for its money. Good thing the time and energy it takes to make these rolls will keep them as a seasonal treat.

Here's the recipe. If you are a cinnamon roll lover like myself, you really need to make these, and invite over your cinnamon roll friends to indulge with you.

Dough
3/4 cup whole milk, heated to 110 degrees (about a minute in the microwave)
1 envelope (2 1/2 teaspoons) rapid rise or instant yeast
3 large eggs, room temp (Trick - place them in warm water for five minutes)
4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup corn starch
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened (cut first - it's much easier)

Filling
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Glaze
4 ounces cream cheese, softened (I actually use less, more like 2.5 ounces)
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Prep: Adjust an oven rack to middle position and heat to 200 degrees, then shut off. Line a 13x9 in. baking pan with foil, allowing the excess to hang over. Grease foil. Grease a medium bowl or two small bowls if you are making the recipe into 16 rolls instead of 8.

1. Dough: Whisk milk and yeast in a large measuring cup (or bowl) until yeast dissolves, then whisk in the eggs. Using a stand mixer and the dough hook, mix the flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt until combined. With mixer on low, add the milk mixture and mix until dough comes together, 1 minute. Increase to medium and add butter, one piece at a time, until incorporated. Continue to mix until the dough is smooth and comes away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes. Turn dough out onto a smooth clean surface and knead to form a smooth, round ball (or two smooth, round balls if you're wanting 16 less giant cinnamon rolls.)  Transfer to prepared bowl(s), then cover with plastic wrap and place in oven. Let rise 2 hours or so.

2. Filling: Combine brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Turn dough onto a lightly floured counter and roll out to be an 18x18 in. square.  If you are making 16 rolls, you're going to do this twice.  If you want, you can make a rectangle with the long side toward you -- this will ensure thicker dough for the rolling part, but still allow you to cut it into 16.  Spread with softened butter, then sprinkle sugar mixture all over evenly. (Again, if you're making 18 rolls, you'll use half of the butter and sugar for the first batch, then the rest for the second.) With the nearest edge, tightly roll up the square to form a cylinder. Cut into 8 pieces and place in foiled pan. Cover in plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about an hour. (If needing to prepare them the next day, you can cover them and move them into the fridge, then take them out when ready and let sit for an hour.)

3. Glaze: Whisk ingredients together.

4. Remove plastic wrap on rolls and bake 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees (35 minutes was enough for the smaller rolls). Buns should be a golden brown and the filling should be melted. Transfer to wire rack and top with 1/2 of the glaze. Let cool for 30 minutes, then top with remaining glaze. Serve and ENJOY!

Thanksgiving is over...

...so Christmas is here!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Part 2

The Thanksgiving feast continued, as we headed to celebrate with the Vander Kooi side at my Uncle John and Aunt Anne's house. Actually, we celebrated in their room above the barn. (Don't let the word "barn" fool you - this is more of a lodge-esque banquet room.) The day began with some home-made cinnamon rolls, which, let me tell you, were no easy feat. They tasted amazing, but I don't believe I'll be making those again until I have my stand mixer. My wrist is still sore mixing! I'm waiting for Robby to wake up as I write, so we can have a left-over roll. My mom also made a delicious quiche, so even before the turkey dinner began, we were enjoying scrumptious food.

After our brunch, we began the food preparation. My mom had already made the turkey, so it was just a matter of pulling it out of the oven and getting to the side dishes: stuffing, brussell sprouts (really, they were good!), cranberry sauce, and gravy. We had to smell that yummy food for over an hour as we drove to the Verwey's. In the end, it was worth it.

Preparing the stuffing
Carly and Honey
All dressed up, so time for a picture!
Kara, Chels, and me
The banquet table
The Verwey girls
One of the many "friends" in Uncle John's room. He's quite the sportsman! Camille couldn't help posing, as her fur vest fit the scene so nicely.
The guys played a dice game at the bar. If you look closely, you can see a couple of more "furry friends" around the room.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving, Part 1

This year, we are having two days of Thanksgiving. The Feely side was yesterday, and today is the Vander Kooi side. With having two Thanksgivings, it felt a bit like Christmas Eve and Christmas, especially with the frosty weather. But who can object to two days of celebration and feasting?!
Appetizers
Desserts
See my pretty gingerbread cake? It turned out great!
Paired with Debbie's pear compote, the cake stole the show - for Debbie and me, anyway.
Prep in the kitchen
Robby and Grandma
Jerry and Debbie
The spread
The family
(Even Jeff made it this year!)

Baby, it's cold outside

Our first frost of the season!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I know that it's not Thursday yet, but it definitely feels like Thanksgiving is here already. The Feely's are (graciously) celebrating a day early this year, so we begin our Day of Thanks tomorrow. That means today, with piano lessons squished here and there, is a day of grocery shopping, errands, and baking. I'm trying out a gingerbread cake, and I'm very excited to see how it turns out, as it called for some unorthodox ingredients. (Stout beer in your cake...anyone?)

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving week, and I pray that our hearts are full of gratitude for the innumerable blessings God has given us.

By the way, the picture of Calla has nothing to do with Thanksgiving, except for the fact that she is good company while I'm in the kitchen.

Monday, November 22, 2010

HP, I love you

This past weekend, Robby and I went with Ben and Steph to see HP 7, Part 1. There isn't much to say here except that it was awesome. I loved every second of it and knew it was already capturing the emotion well when ten minutes into it I was crying. July just cannot come fast enough to see Part 2.

I happened to browse Cake Wrecks and thought it'd be worth sharing that the "wrecks which shall not be named" might be worth checking out, especially that last Harry Potter one. Yikes. Enjoy the wrecks by clicking here, and then click here when you want to see the awesome ones.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Popovers!

One summer my sister worked as a nanny for a family in Maine and told me about these delicious popovers she had there, which are supposedly a Maine treat. I have never forgotten her description of them, and when I saw Test Kitchen had a full-proof recipe, I tucked it away for a rainy day - and until I purchased a popover pan. At World Market's half off bakeware sale last week, I got one, for a mere $4, and made these that very day. They were delicious!

Popovers are unlike any other bread I've had. They rise very high (as you can see) and have a crusty exterior, with a hollow interior. Hollow! Chelsea said Mainers would poke a hole in the top, fill them with butter and jam, and shake them! How cool is that? I found it easier to cut it in half, but to each his own.

Here's the ATK recipe, which is far better than any other I've seen. One thing is they're definitely best straight out of the oven, so plan ahead to make these with a soup meal or for breakfast. (Sorry, Steph and Ben - the day old's weren't nearly as good as the fresh ones.)

Ingredients
Vegetable shortening to grease the pans
2 cups bread flour
3 large eggs
2 cups low-fat milk, heated to 110 degrees
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Directions
1. Grease the pans and lightly flour. Adjust oven rack to middle lower position.
2. Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl until light and foamy. Whisk in the milk and butter.
3. In another bowl, combine flour, salt, sugar. Whisk the milk mixture into the flour mixture until no lumps remain. If possible, transfer this to a large measuring cup (a 4 cup pyrex worked perfectly) or just set aside. This needs to set for an hour.
4. After an hour, whisk to recombine, then pour into pan (batter should be just short of the top). Bake at 450 degrees for about twenty minutes, until just beginning to brown.
5. Without opening the oven door, reduce heat to 300 degrees and bake another 35-40 minutes, until golden brown.
6. Poke a small hole in the top of each popover and bake another 10 minutes, until deep golden brown.
7. Remove and place pan on a wire rack. Poke again and let cool for a couple of minutes. Turn them out and serve!

If you do need to make these ahead of time, you can do one of two things: make the batter and refrigerate it, just make sure it reaches room temp before baking; or bake the popovers, then store in the fridge, and bake again so they crisp up nicely.

You can fill these with butter, jam, or a savory filling, such as a garlic and herb spread. Yum!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Rainy Weekend

I am thankful for the rain today. I suppose I am just as thankful for the beautiful sunshine yesterday and am glad we were not running around getting all wet. But today, the rain is wonderful, and although Robby doesn't like not being able to do his yard (two weeks in a row), I think it's a good thing. He is forced to enjoy his Saturday.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thankful

As Deb has pointed out, many people are highlighting what they are thankful for on their blogs this month. After a beautiful memorial service for my aunt Sue, I am full of thanks: for family, for my husband, for friends, for redemption, for memories, for music, for Scripture, for pastors, for church, and for our God and Savior.

We couldn't have asked for a more glorious way to celebrate the life of my aunt, and more importantly, to celebrate the gift of eternal life God gives us. Thank you to all of you who had me and my family in your prayers. Thank you for your concern, your words of comfort, and your friendship.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Caramel tea?

Delicious. Foodelicious, in fact, as that is the name of the company. The black tea itself was just quality, and there was a hint of caramel in both the aroma and taste.

Although I would bet it's not a perfect comparison to Foodelicious (this is the English version of the store/site, so check it out!), the Republic of Tea carries a caramel vanilla that has received nice reviews, and since World Market is offering a $10 of $30 right now (want it? just become a member for free by clicking here), it just might be the time to go stock up on some holiday teas!

BTW, World Market is also offering 50% of all bakeware. Remember those darling silicone muffin cups? Half off!

(I promise I am in no way affiliated with WM. I just like a good deal.)

The gift of tea

One of the perks of having a world-traveling sister is the fun little gifties she brings us when she comes home. Last time Chelsea went to Holland, she brought me beautiful blue delft salt and pepper shakers with wooden shoes painted on them. This time, I received this beautiful tea:

She tells me this is the tea of choice, and it is supposed to be delicious. I'm brewing it as we speak (the caramel flavor...yum!), so we shall see! Good thing brewing tea is pretty basic because the directions don't offer me much help...

Thanks, sis, and welcome home!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hebrews: Thoughts on Suffering

The past few weeks, I have been reading through the book of Hebrews. To be honest, I don't know how I've missed the gloriousness of this book in the Bible. I know I've read it before, or at least I've read some of it, but it truly is remarkable.

I've always thought of Romans being the "grace" book - indeed, it is the book that lays out clearly that salvation cannot be earned by what we do. However, Hebrews is just as much of a grace-cry as Romans, and it all centers around our beautiful, sacrificial High Priest. Because of Him, we may approach the "throne of grace," we may have confidence in our salvation, we may recognize that without Christ, we are nothing, but with Him, we have all!

Here are just a few verses that struck me the past couple of weeks. If you (as I had) have no recollection of reading this, do it now. :)

Hebrews 4:1
Therefore, while the promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear so that none of you should miss it.

Hebrews 4:14 - 16
Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens--Jesus the Son of God--let us hold fast to the confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us as the proper time.

Hebrews 5:7-10
During His earthly life, He offered prayers and appeals, with loud cries and tears, to the One who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. Though a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. After He was perfected, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, and He was declared by God a high priest.

One of the things that is so amazing is the role of Jesus' suffering in his life. Sometimes, I think that His suffering on the cross was only to pay for our sins, but Hebrews explains that Christ's suffering had a greater role. He "learned obedience" through His suffering; He became a perfect High Priest through His suffering; He became the ultimate mediator between God and man.

We tend to shy away from the role suffering plays in our own perfection and obedience on this earth. The moment we have pain, we cry out to God to remove it. But if Jesus, the perfect Son of God, learned obedience through His suffering, how much more do we have to learn? Suffering leads us to the throne of grace, to the great High Priest, to the victorious Savior. Suffering - as devastating as it is (and let's be honest, it is devastating: the cross, illness, abuse, loss, pain) - has been redeemed by God to be used for good. We can get even bolder: Suffering is ordained by God to be used for good. Jesus cried out to God, to the "One who was able to save Him from death" and God HEARD Him. He heard Him! He heard Him, and yet Jesus still suffered.

Jesus suffered, so that He could become the great High Priest, so that when we are broken, we get to receive grace and mercy from Him, both in the form of eternal salvation, but also in daily, timely salvation: "Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us as the proper time."

I look forward to our life in Heaven where there is no suffering. I rejoice that those who have gone before us are experiencing a fullness of life that doesn't include pain or sorrow. I glory in the fact that evil will not always exist alongside of good, and that God's justice will prevail. I praise God that His plan includes an ending that is perfect in every way. And I find comfort in knowing that the suffering in this world is not and never will be in vain. We serve a mighty and powerful God.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Something Cute

While I was waiting for a piano student to come this afternoon, I quickly browsed through Design*Sponge's Before and After pics. (So great! Have I mentioned I love that site??) This picture was highlighting the mirror, but what I thought was so cute was the baby pumpkin in the glass cloche. I don't have a glass cloche myself, but I thought I could find some glass piece to create a make-shift one. If you do have a cool dome, this could be a great little Thanksgiving centerpiece.

Work

Yesterday I spent the day getting things done around the house. Although I never wake up in the morning and think, "I cannot wait to get out the cleaning supplies and go to town with them!", there is a great sense of accomplishment and order when I take time to clean and organize. Our small group is reading through John Piper's Don't Waste Your Life, and in one section, he talks about the role of work in God's plan. God intended us to work, whether that work is a 9 to 5 job or keeping a house or taking care of children.

I have no doubt God purposed us to work not only to be part of the order of this world and to contribute to the furthering of his kingdom through the work we do, but also to allow us a physical outlet for our spiritual self. There has been much weighing on my spirit lately, and, strange as it may seem, cleaning out the bathroom cabinet yesterday gave me a sense of rest and peace.

This reminds me that heaven will not a boring, idle place. We will have much to do, and it will be a joy to do it, working for the great King and doing all for His glory.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Another stay at Hotel deG

Once again, John and Kelly have saved the day and let us stay at their home instead of getting a hotel. Not only do they provide lodging, but they also provide meals, snacks, coffee at any time, and entertainment. (See the main attraction below.)

Kelly and I went to lunch on Coronado and had delicious Greek food. The real treat, however, were the cupcakes afterward. They were delicious, especially the bavarian cream chocolate cupcake. Yum!

Check out Kelly's post for more pictures and details about our fun weekend.

Chang Wedding

It was a busy wedding weekend, as we drove down to San Diego Friday for the rehearsal (Robby was a groomsman, and both he and I did the music), then after a night's stay at JK's and a morning to hang out, went to the wedding celebration. Here are just a few pictures:

Snuggled up - it was cold outside! Luckily the reception was indoors.
Darren and his new bride Cristi came by to say hi as part of the rounds.
Steve, Chris, and the lovely orchid centerpiece
The guys at our table - for some reason, their significant others didn't make it, so it ended up being a boy table plus Elizabeth (Chris' wife) and myself
Rob and Darren, sporting their skinny ties
And the happy couple, after cake

Friday, November 12, 2010

Joy and Sorrow

Yesterday was a day crammed with both joy and extreme sorrow: we rejoiced with my mom as she celebrated fifty years of life, and we were thrilled to see my sister Chelsea return after nine months away. But we sorrowed over the loss of my aunt, my dad's sister, who died after a battle with cancer.

I was thinking, though, that death in Christ is never a completely sorrowful event. Just as my sister returned home, just as my mother celebrated life, so is my aunt going home and celebrating the beginning of her true life as we speak, her life to the very fullest. No more pain. No more fear. No more sorrow. What joy we have in Christ! Praise God for his hope and grace!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Lunch Box

On Wednesday, Steph G., Elizabeth, and I met for lunch at a newish Visalia place called The Lunch Box. The environment was very warm and fun, with lots of bright colors and wood tones. (I especially liked the furniture because it's from the same line as the coffee table I have in my house.) There are large long tables where big groups can eat or where people can enjoy their food family style, or there are smaller tables for two or four to sit.

I thought the food was good, perhaps not the best soup or sandwich I have ever eaten, but enjoyable nonetheless. The ingredients were simple but seemed quality. My turkey, bacon, avocado sandwich had flavorful meat and a good slice of avocado, with just the right amount of mayo. I had to add salt and pepper, but that's me anyway. Although the soup was fine, it did lack a little something. I only tried one, though, so maybe her other soups are better.

The menu was a bit overwhelming - tons of sandwich and wrap options. However, only one soup is offered, and it isn't a coffee bar, so you can either get plain coffee, soda, or tea. That simplified things. The price was fair, a larger amount of food than what Panera gives for about the same price. For $8.99, I had the lunch combo, which comes with a whole sandwich or wrap of choice, the soup of the day, a little cookie, and an iced tea. It is easily something one could share and save a little money.

Overall, I think it's a great addition to Visalia's downtown dining choices. I'm sure it's giving Tazzaria a run for its money, although if you want the best carrot cake ever, Tazzaria still is only the option.

Check out the Lunch Box's website by clicking here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Funnel Mess

Funnel cakes are a delicious treat, but the $10 price tag at Six Flags (and the ridiculous line) meant that I would leave home without one. So yesterday, I attempted to make my own. It did not turn out as the above picture, but it tasted good nonetheless. Good ol' Alton Brown helped me out, providing a simple recipe. The trickiest part about it all was flipping it over, but I found that if you just make the cake a bit smaller, you could use a spatula.

Here's the recipe, so give it a try!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 stick butter (6 tablespoons)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup eggs, about 4 large eggs and 2 whites
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • Powdered sugar, for topping

Directions

Boil water, butter, sugar, and salt together in a saucepan. Add flour and work it in until it is all incorporated and dough forms a ball. Transfer mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer and let cool for 3 to 4 minutes. With mixer lowest speed, add eggs, 1 at a time, making sure the first egg is completely incorporated before continuing. Once all eggs have been added and mixture is smooth, put dough in a piping bag fitted with a number 12 tip. Heat about 1 1/2 inches of oil in a heavy pan. Pipe dough into oil, making a free-form lattice pattern; cook until browned, flipping once. Remove cake from oil, drain on paper towels, and top with powdered sugar. Continue until all of the batter is used.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sticks!

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with Steph (Steph's Stitches and Such)at her fantastic new home. We had a great time talking crafts and decor, and finding neat treasures around her home...sticks! Steph had been telling me that she has plenty of awesome sticks for me to use for my bird mobiles and other projects, and she wasn't lying. These sticks are beautiful, practically works of art in themselves with their curly branches and bleached white bark. Most of them were eucalyptus, but there was one gorgeous red one we're not sure of. It does look a lot like the red dogwood branches Debbie gave me, so that's my best guess, but we didn't know.

I look forward to many more visits to the Sario's yellow house.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Muffin dress-up!

My mom recently purchased these neat silicone baking cups (shaped as flowers - how cute!) from World Market. These little things are awesome. I tried them out last night baking some of my mom's zucchini bread. They come in sets of ten, so you can purchase a few (4.95 for ten - a deal!) and have plenty for a big batch of cupcakes, muffins, or bread. Instead of a muffin pan, which only holds twelve, you can cram fifteen or so of these onto a baking sheet and get your baking project finished much more quickly. With some cooking grease sprayed onto each of them, your tasty baked treat will pop right out. The best part about them is the clean-up: just soak them in a little bit of soapy water, and they clean right up.

I checked WM's website, but they don't have these online. However, I've seen them at a couple of World Market's, so if you're interested, grab some for your holiday baking.

Interested in making some zucchini bread for yourself? My mom uses the tried and true recipe from BH&G and adds extra zucchini, spices, and walnuts. Check it out here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Dear Six Flags:

This is, I'm afraid, good-bye. You and I have had a good run. You provided awesome last minute trips with cousins, memorable junior high and high school excursions, and of course, that great exclusive event in college. Even yesterday, you were the foundation for some great thrills and conversation. But it's over.

You just don't offer me what I want anymore. Where is the magical atmosphere? Where is the cute ice cream shop? Where are the lights? Where is the music?

I want a coffee shop to rest my feet; you offer me X2. I want a fireworks show to please my eyes in the evening; you offer Goliath. I want to walk to an attraction and feel like that walk is part of the attraction; you offer me lines and lines with nothing more but the Riddler thrill ride at the end.

In a word, I want Mickey, and you offer Bugs.

I have no doubt that next year will be for you, as all your signs said, epic. I hope that is true. Just know I will not be there to experience it.

Sincerely,

Candace

P.S. You should also know that I blame you for causing me to miss a day in my NaBloPoMo posts. After sixteen hours away from home, I had no energy to even post a picture.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sunny Bird Mobile

The mobile was hung in the tree so the paint on the branches could dry. I just couldn't help taking a few pics of the birdies in their own habitat.