Sunday, January 30, 2011

iheartfaces | Best Face of January 2011

Perhaps the most anticipated event of the year - The Daddy-Daughter Dance.  This is the night where tomboys transform into princesses and the man of their dreams sweeps them off their feet.  I'm so proud of my husband for being the perfect Prince Charming to our three little princesses.  I'm so proud of him for modeling what a perfect gentleman should be.  I'm so proud of him for having the stamina to endure three relentless hours of 80's music, the electric slide and Justin Bieber!

As one by one he carried our girls up to bed last night, I can still see Ella, fast asleep in his arms, clenching her single pink rose - a magical night, indeed!

Find more Daddy-Daughter photos here!

The Daddy Daughter Dance

Friday, January 28, 2011

Betsy Ross and Two-Bite Star Cookies

Today I had the opportunity to use both my cookie cutters and my camera.  Life just doesn't get much better!  The occasion?  Second grade Revolutionary War Day.   I love these special presentation days at school and Revolutionary War Day is no exception.  First of all, I get to bake!  Look at this giant platter of perfect little iced two-bite star cookies.  You just can't get more patriotic than that.  I used my secret freezer stash of Pillsbury Sheet Cookie Dough and cut out nearly 100 stars from two packages.  What I love about these sheets is that the cookies turn out perfectly every time!  No big, puffy, lop-sided stars!  I topped them with Wilton's glossy cookie icing.  This is truly the perfect cookie icing.  It hardens enough for stacking, but doesn't get that break-your-teeth crunch like Royal Icing does.  The red stars were frosted with the icing that came with the cookies.  As you can see, they are not beautiful and glossy!  I tried to remedy this with some patriotic stripes.  I guess it all works out in the end!

You can find more details on my sugar-cookie shortcuts and Wilton's Cookie Icing recipe here!

Secondly, look at these adorable faces!  Didn't they do an amazing job?  Each student was required to dress in character and tell the story (from memory!) of a Revolutionary War Hero.  As usual, I was simply amazed with their poise, ability and understanding!

Here's my very own Betsy Ross.  I had so much fun photographing each student.  When I was through, I ran the pictures through Pioneer Woman's Vintage Action for Photoshop Elements, which turned out beautifully for this project and their new class bulletin board!

Even though this is my third time through second grade (as a parent), I find that I continue to learn something new each time!  Just for fun, here's a little Betsy Ross trivia for you:

  • Betsy Ross' birth name was Elizabeth Griscom.
  • She was an accomplished seamstress by age 12  and then became an apprentice in an upholstery (sewing) shop.
  • Her future husband, John Ross, was also an upholstery apprentice.  They fell in love and had a secret wedding because he was not a Quaker and her parents did not approve.
  • They were married only two years when, in 1776, he was killed while guarding an ammunition truck.
  • It was later that year that George Washington was said to have come to her shop to discuss the design of the first American Flag.
  • George Washington wanted a square flag with 13 stripes and 13 six-pointed stars because he said a five-pointed star would be too hard to make.
  • Betsy Ross suggested a rectangular flat, which would fly better in the wind, and showed him how to make a perfect five-pointed star with a folded piece of paper and just a single cut!
  • Betsy's last name was Ross for only four years!  She would become widowed two more times before her life was over.
  • Betsy, a working woman, kept her upholstery shop until until she 75 years old.  She died at 84.
If you already knew all that, then congratulations!  You're smarter than a second grader!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Creme Filled Jumbo Cupcakes {MSC}

Another page in my journey through the Martha Stewart Cupcakes book, these should technically be called Creme Filled Standard-Sized Cupcakes.  This is not because I don't own a jumbo sized cupcake pan (I do), but because I was serving them to a class of second graders.  The occasion happened to be the second grade teacher's birthday, and I decided it would be no present to her if I gave all the kids jumbo sized cupcakes!

Trying to be a studious baker, I dirtied two bowls - one for wet and one for dry ingredients.  I added extra cocoa powder after reading comments that the recipe didn't seem chocolate-y enough.

Here's the combined batter.

-  and 24 four standard-sized cupcakes (vs. 12 jumbo).

The cupcake batter was heavy and resulted in a crackly top.

To fill the cupcakes, carve out the top and fill.  Replace the top.

Martha's recipe simply had a marshmallow creme  topping swirled on top.  I added an extra layer of chocolate frosting (should have used the glossy ganache!) and then swirled on the marshmallow creme.

It's like a Hostess Ding Dong, only way better!

You can find this recipe on Martha's website.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

iheartfaces | Anna's Catfish

My interpretation of this week's challenge lies somewhere between Innocent Wonder and Shock and Awe!  I don't know who was more surprised at the giant catch - My five year old daughter, Anna, or the 10-pound catfish!  We captured this shot with an old cell phone camera and retrieved it recently for Anna (now in fourth grade!) as she wrote a descriptive essay on this historic event in her life.  Her face in this photo tells it all.

To read Anna's essay, just continue.  
To jump to the comment form, scroll down to the bottom!
To view more great photos, click iheartfaces!

My Ten Pound Catfish
By Anna

        I’ll never forget the time I caught a ten-pound catfish!  I was five years old when I went fishing with my dad, my sister, Arielle, and my brother, Samuel.  My dad drove the boat to our lucky spot.   I baited my hook with a nice big, fat, juicy, live night crawler.   My dad cast my line right under the dock for me.
 My dad saw the line moving across the water.  He said to me, “Anna, hold on to your pole tightly!”  Suddenly, I felt one big, rough tug!  I could hear the line whirring as it pulled out of the reel. “Daddy, it’s a huge one!” I screamed.  Samuel ran toward me with the net.  The water turned from calm to murky.  I saw a tail splashing water everywhere!  The pole started flailing back and forth.
I started reeling the line in as fast as I could.  It was just myself against the fish.  With all my might I pulled the fish toward the boat.   Then I saw the gigantic fish.  Samuel scooped it up in the net, and I caught it.  I was astounded.  It weighed in at a scale-breaking ten pounds!  I was amazed that my small sunfish hook could hold it!
I demanded that we take my prize catfish home.  I showed my mom, and we took lots of pictures.  We decided to eat my catfish.  My dad cleaned it.  My mom cooked it and we put it on a special tray.  Then, I tried it.  Guess what?  I didn’t like it!
I still can’t believe I actually caught such an enormous fish.  It will be a story that I’ll never forget.  This memory is what keeps me going back for more.  It’s the lure of the big fish!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Fancy Nancy Cupcakes!

I was busy photographing my Black Forest Cupcakes when my six- and seven-year old girls came home from school after their Fun Friday Finale class.  They were all smiles, carrying cupcakes of their own.  "Mom, blog about our cupcakes!" they pleaded.  So, of course, I said YES!

The class is called "Fancy Nancy".  During each class they read a Fancy Nancy book and then participate in a fun activity relating to the book.  On this particular day, they read Fancy Nancy and the Delectable Cupcake by Jane O'Connor.  

With some satin ribbon and jewels, these fast-food drink holders transform into beautiful five-cupcake holders.

Red Velvet cupcakes get a fancy upgrade with lots of frosting, swirls, sprinkles and gumdrops!

I don't think all the cupcakes made it home.

We had to wipe a few faces before they were picture perfect!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

iheartfaces Photo Challenge|Winter Wonderland

The man behind the post is usually the man behind the camera.  He's the man who bought me my first (and second) Nikon.  He's the man who taught me, mentored me and encouraged me to take better pictures.  He's the man who made sure that each and every year we had a family Christmas photo card.  The man in this week's photo is my dad.  

My dad grew up in Minnesota, the first born son of an immigrant Norwegian father and a Finnish mother.  Early in his life, he developed a love for photography.  He put himself through engineering school by photographing weddings, reunions and portraits.  He won photo contests.  He documented our lives.  When  my parents took me and my brother on family vacations he would supply us with seemingly endless rolls of film.  We would then tour the national parks where he would show us God's beautiful creation and teach us the art of composition.

In our family, we thought it was completely normal to spend the first half hour of a Christmas gathering lining everyone up for the annual family photo.  We thought nothing of the hot spotlights that enabled him to record on video our gift openings, birthdays and more.

And so, at 74 years of age, my dad willingly tromped through the Minnesota snow, halfway around the lake on which he and my mother live, so that I could snap a picture for this week's photo theme, Winter Wonderland.

Like the post he stands behind, my dad is always supportive, solid, straight and true.

I am forever grateful to be blessed with a dad like this.

Thanks, Dad!  I love you!

For more Winter Wonderland photos, visit iheartfaces!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Black Forest Cupcakes {MSC}

Necessity is the mother of invention.

If you've been following my blog this week, you know that we've been snowed in for a record five days!    A measly six inches of snow has frozen a southern town - a town that does not own a snowplow, a sand truck or a shovel.  For a week, we've been without school, without mail and without pizza delivery!  As a midwestern girl living in the south, I used to laugh when the mere mention of snow would send people into a frenzy, emptying the grocery store shelves of milk, bread and water, but no more!  Shamefully, I looked in the garage this week and realized we owned neither a snow shovel nor an ice scraper!  I'm turning into a southern belle!

Next time I will head their warning.... Next time I will buy my cupcake ingredients in advance!  
As for today, I will listen to Plato and use my resourcefulness to bake my version of..... 
Black Forest Cupcakes!

When I realized that driving to the grocery store was probably not a safe idea, I rummaged through the pantry to see which ingredients I had on hand.  As I compared them to the recipe, I counted at least seven items missing.  Not a good start to a cupcake recipe.  What could I make that would combine the elements crucial to a Black Forest Cupcake - Chocolate, Cherries and Cream?

I did find two types of cherries - dried sour cherries and sweet maraschino cherries.

Although the maraschino cherries were much more beautiful, I opted for the dried sour cherries, imagining their taste would best compliment the element of chocolate.

I reconstituted them a bit in hot water and added them to a cheesecake filling.  The cheesecake filling was not-too-sweet and proved to be the perfect compliment for the sour cherries.

I didn't have sour cream or dark brown sugar, so I used Martha's delicious one-bowl chocolate recipe instead, again, using the old vinegar-in-the-milk trick in place of buttermilk.

I put a dollop of cherry cheesecake filling in the center of each chocolate cupcake and baked as directed. 

Looking for a little more cherry flavor, I decided to convert Martha's Strawberry Meringue Buttercream into Sour Cherry Swiss Meringue.  I did this by reconstituting more cherries, processing them in the blender, and adding them to the buttercream at the end.

The resulting taste was delicious and complex, although I would have preferred a smoother texture.

I added another layer of chocolate by including the chocolate ganache that was in the original recipe.

I topped that with some chocolate shavings,

and decided to finish it with a maraschino cherry.

Here, you can see all the layers.
My husband and son thought they were delicious!  Not a bad ending to a snowed-in week...
Or maybe it's just cabin fever!

Thanks to Janine at Janine's Crazy World for today's great selection!

Simple Girl's Black Forest Cupcakes
  1. Martha's One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
  2. Sour Cherry Cheesecake Filling - Mix Together
    1. 16 ounce Cream Cheese
    2. 3 ounces powdered sugar
    3. 2 eggs
    4. 1 cup chopped, reconstituted dried sour cherries
  3. Martha's Chocolate Ganache
  4. Sour Cherry Swiss Meringue Frosting

Thursday, January 13, 2011

White Chocolate Popcorn

Of course, trying to portray the deliciousness of white chocolate on white popcorn in a white box is nearly impossible, but this simple to make treat is simply delicious!  

I was first introduced to this sweet and salty ambrosia by my friend, Anne, who brought a giant bowl of it to a school Valentine's Party a few years ago.  Guess what?  It all disappeared.  Consider this your fair warning.  Whatever you make will be consumed!  It's that addicting!

I knew this would be the perfect treat for movie night on our FOURTH snow day!

White Chocolate Popcorn
Recipe Courtesy of Anne Pryor

2 Bags Orville Redenbacher's Tender White Microwave Popcorn, Popped
8-oz high quality white chocolate, melted

Note:  According to Anne, best results are obtained by using Orville Redenbacher's Tender White microwave popcorn.  Because my new, fancy convection/microwave oven does everything but pop popcorn, I resorted to the old-fashioned stove top method and also achieved great results.  

Pop two bags of popcorn or fill your biggest bowl with stove topped popcorn.  Melt one package of high quality white chocolate chips.  Drizzle on top of the popcorn and mix to combine.  Spread the popcorn  on parchment paper to dry.  

Eat, serve, or fill some cellophane bags for a delicious gift!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gingerbread Waffles

With our normal early wake-up call, a hot breakfast is an infrequent luxury.  Today, however, waking up to our THIRD snow day, I decided that Gingerbread Waffles would be the perfect snow-bound treat.

Yes, even I was impressed to find all these ingredients on hand!

This recipe, courtesy of Rachael Ray and The Food Network, makes a delicious, thick batter.  
I made my usual substitutions of white whole wheat flour and canola oil.
It took a little finessing to spoon the batter into my barnyard-shaped Williams-Sonoma waffle maker.

A little patience, a little perseverance and VOILA!  Perfect barn, cow, chick and pig waffles.

Despite the extra thick batter, the waffles turned out deliciously fluffy with a crispy exterior and a tender interior.  
The kid-o-meter gave it four out of four stars!

I made a double batch.  One for today and one for the freezer.  
Now we won't need a snow day to enjoy a tasty, hot breakfast!

Gingerbread Waffles
Adapted from Rachael Ray on

3 cups white whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 1/4 cups milk (I used almond milk)
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup canola oil

Preheat waffle iron.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt.  In a medium bowl, beat eggs and brown sugar until fluffy, then beat in pumpkin, milk, molasses and canola oil.  Stir the wet into the dry ingredients until just moist.  Spray iron with cooking spray and spoon batter into waffle iron.

Makes four large waffles.