Lofty Ambitions

IMG_8255

Before my youngest turned three, we promised her that once she was three she would get a “big girl bed”. Previously she had been sleeping on a mattress on the floor to get her used to sleeping on a twin mattress while not having to worry about her falling off the bed each night. A little less than a year ago, my daughters decided they wanted to share a bedroom so we moved the floor mattress into my eldest daughter’s room. While the room is a good size, having two twin beds really reduced the usable space in the room because of the shape of the room and the way the door swings.

When we moved to this house, we bought a really nice twin bed frame for my eldest daughter (she had just turned three and it was her first “big girl bed”). I didn’t want to get rid of this frame so I was looking for a solution that would maintain use of this bed but still allow both girls to have a real bed. Bunk beds wouldn’t work so I was looking for loft bed solutions. I really wanted a loft bed with stairs because I was worried about my daughter climbing down a ladder in the middle of the night if she needed to go to the restroom. Unfortunately, all the loft bed solutions with stairs that I found were both VERY expensive, and they would not allow the door of the room to open. I was a little stuck.

Enter, Pinterest. I started looking for different solutions and found an amazing tutorial for a loft bed with stairs that I could modify slightly to work with our room layout! I had to change some of the dimensions to fit our existing bed frame underneath as well as modify the steps and landing because of the limitations of the door swing. But, all in all, it was pretty good.

I made this bed over Memorial Day week-end. It took me about 2 full days (having to field two very curious children, borrowing some very old and not quite right power tools from my neighbors, and not having a proper worktable so rigging up bricks on my patio floor as my “cutting table”). All materials cost a little less than $300, which is about 1/6 the price of any loft bed with stairs I was able to find that might have fit in our space. Of course, being the architect I am, I had to draw it out with my modifications and the room layout to really get it straight in my head what I was trying to do. I think my husband thought I was a little cuckoo to start this project on Saturday afternoon of Memorial Day week-end, but amazingly, everything fell into place!

My daughters were very interested to see mommy using power tools and assembling something from scratch, but I wanted to show them that this is not impossible. I was a little rusty at first and the circular saw I used was probably twenty-five pounds, but I ended up getting most of the cuts pretty straight, which is amazing given how I didn’t have a level surface anywhere and I had to eyeball a bunch of stuff.

Modifications made were really surrounding the mattress support, adding some diagonal bracing for stability, and the steps/ ladder solution. We used (3) 3/4″ thk birch plywood sheets cut down to size for the mattress support (since it was raining the day we got materials so we were trying to put everything into the car to avoid getting anything wet). Since our loft wasn’t braced on both sides by walls, I needed to add some bracing to allow for more stability when the girls climb up the top bunk. The steps were made using the leftover plywood sheets for the treads and the platform was really just scraps that I threw together to make the landing and attach to the loft frame. I have to say, I’m quite proud of the result and it felt great to be making something with my hands again.

My daughters just LOVE this bed. We have attached a sheet to the top rail of the loft and use it as a curtain to create a “tent” where they read books and play together.  We put a little rug and a seat and some pillows to make it more comfy.  This week-end they are each getting one night to sleep in the tent with the sheet closed for a mini-adventure in make-believe land.  This project is already worth its weight in gold.

IMG_8257

IMG_8256

A 3rd Birthday for Baby

I guess I shouldnt call her a baby anymore as she just turned three, but I can’t help it! I still see remnants of her baby fat and chubby cheeks and yet she’s old enough to ask for a Belle-themed birthday party!  It’s bittersweet for sure.

I figured since this was her first real birthday party, we could have some of her close friends over and have a small, intimate party.  The challenge with daycare and commuting is that my schedule never overlaps other parents so while my daughter talks about her friends, I never have occasion to have my path cross with any of her friends parents.  Birthday parties are really a good way to remedy that.

I don’t know where my daughter got an idea for a Belle birthday party, but she wanted it.  I’m not a big fan of character parties so I was trying to think of the best way to accomplish this theme without having Disney paraphernalia everywhere.  I settled on a subtle Belle theme using yellow, gold and white with cupcakes alluding to the movie.

I found this cute cupcake idea on pinterst.  Unfortunately, the Wilton roses that were recommended for this cupcake had reviews that all agreed they tasted terrible.  I was talking to my mom on the phone about this one day and she decided she wanted to make icing roses for the cupcakes and FedEx then to me! Amazing!  I made a simple lemon cupcake recipe with a the buttercream frosting I have blogged about before.

For decorations, I stuck to a simple color scheme of white and gold throughout.  I think it turned out very nice and the kids had a great time!  In my next post I’ll talk about the craft all the kiddies got to make.  Until then, a very happy birthday to my littlest munchkin!

Happy (Belated) Valentine’s Day

I hope everyone had a great Valentine’s Day!  I quickly put together a pretty standard dinner risotto but gave it that extra festive touch by making little heart-shaped pie crust and filling them with the risotto as a lovely little surprise.  Boy were these a big hit.  My youngest decided to hoard all the extras and not give any of us more than one.  She relented eventually, but it was quite amusing to see her surrounded by hearts when everyone else only had a single one.  Recipes I used were this for the crust and an adaption of this for the risotto.  All I did differently with the risotto was use pancetta and add peas in lieu of the prosciutto.  Delicious and fun!

Scone Trial

img_8197

My previous post touched on my breakfast ritual with my daughters.  Luckily, one of the coffee shops in town brings a taste of the city to its patrons, having pastries from Balthazar’s delivered to their shop on a daily basis.  A particular favorite of mine is the cranberry scone.  These are the perfect combination of buttery, slightly sweet from the cranberry and sprinkle of sugar crystals on top, and surprisingly, there is no orange zest as you typically find with any baked good containing cranberries.

Well, I wasn’t lucky enough to find the recipe for these online, so I turned to the Ina Garten as a base recipe to start from.  One good thing about making these, I finally used my stand mixer, that has been sitting on my counter accumulating dust for years.  This wonderful piece of machinery made everything incredibly easy.  My daughters were fascinated with seeing the stand mixer work as well as how easy it was to operate.

While this recipe was good, it wasn’t of the same quality of Balthazar’s.  I think that in order to get there, it needs more butter, just a small twist of sugar, and I did omit the orange zest as well.  I did love that the egg wash with the sugar crystals really made these scones look amazingly delicious.  My youngest daughter ate a whole scone for herself once these came out of the oven.  It was quite amazing because they were each almost the size of her face!  While not what I was aiming for, they were still quite delicious!

img_8193

Bakery Blues

IMG_8202.JPG

One of my main sorrows in leaving the city is the lack of a good sit-down bakery to enjoy delicious baked goods for breakfast (I’m not talking about cupcakes).  Ever since our first daughter was born, we made a ritual of going out to breakfast on the week-ends.  I would bring my daughter to one of the various coffee/ bakery shops around us and we would enjoy some quality mommy-daughter time.  It was always such a pleasant way to begin the week-end.  In moving to the suburbs, I had a hard time finding the perfect breakfast spot that had the ambiance and the the quality of baked goods.  One of our favorite places to frequent in Brooklyn was a wonderful little bakery called Blue Sky Bakery.  They make the most delicious muffins.  All of them are fresh-made daily and incorporate seasonal ingredients, such as fresh pumpkin or apple in the fall, peaches in the summer, and so on.  On any given day, they have at least 10 varieties to choose from.  My daughter loved to eat all of the fruit out of my muffins and we thoroughly enjoyed the varieties offered each day.

I wondered if I could find the recipe for these muffins, as the shop only had two base recipes, one bran and one non-bran, with different fruit mixtures for variety.  I was in luck and thank you Google for helping me find it!  These are seriously the best bran muffins I have had and I was so excited to find the recipe out there.  I found out that it was published in a cookbook “Table of Contents“.  You can use any combination of fruit in these muffins and they are always amazing.  I made these as my two year old sat on the kitchen counter watching me create these wonders and when they were done, she dug in, eating all the fruit out of the center, just like her sister used to do.  It’s like they’re related!  You should try these muffins out.  Not too sweet, very easy and fast, extremely delicious!

Blue Sky Bakery Bran Muffin (makes 2 dozen)

  • 2 and 2/3 c buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 c vegetable oil
  • 3 c. wheat bran
  • 2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp baking soda
  • 1/2 c. dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tsp granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cup fruit (I used raspberries and peaches)

Preheat oven to 425 and coat muffin tin with butter or cooking spray.

Mix buttermilk, eggs and oil in a medium bowl.

In seperate bowl combine wheat bran, flour, baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar and salt.

Pour wet mixture into dry one and mix until just combined.

Place about 2 tbsp of batter in each muffin tin (the batter will expand to fill about 1/2 the cup).  Place a generous layer of fruit  (about 2 heaping teaspoons) into each cup.  Measure 2 tsp of the sugar in a small bowl, taking pinches with your fingers, sprinkle the sugar over the fruit.  Divide remaining batter evenly among the muffin cups.  Place remaining 2 tspn of sugar into bowl and pinch and sprinkle the sugar over the top!

Bake for 5 minutes.  Rotate muffin tins front to bake to ensure even cooking and bake for another 11-13 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs sticking to it.  Do NOT overbake.

Cook on wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove muffins from tin.

 

Happy New Year 2017!

We were fortunate enough to have my parents visiting for the New Year, which allowed me to be a little more ambitious for our New Year’s dinner.  I have been wanting to teach the girls how to make dumplings.  I still have fond memories as a child of all of us seated at the kitchen table making dumplings, talking and joking while making delicious food. These are the kinds of small traditions I want to pass on to my children, but it is a lot of work for just one person to prepare all of the ingredients and follow through, because, inevitably, children’s attention spans are short. With my mom in town, this eliminated a lot of these concerns as we have been working together for so long that it’s almost like second nature when we are together and making food.

We ended up making three different dumplings: shui jiao and guo tie (same style, just cooked differently), wontons and shumei. Can I just say, TASTY!!!!  To save time we bought the store-bought dumpling wrappers but made the filling from scratch. Making it fun for the kids, we had on child per adult and I had my daughters separate the he dumpling skins, spoon the filling, and put water around the perimeter of the hehe he skins for sealing.  My mom, husband and I wrapped the dumplings.  When they get older they can get more interactive, learning how to wrap the different types of dumplings.

Dumpling filling (for 5 packs of small, round dumpling skins):

2 lb ground pork

1 lb diced shrimp

2 lb chopped chives

4 stalks scallions, diced

4 slices Ginger, diced

2 T cooking wine

1 tsp white pepper

2 tsp salt

2 T cornstarch

4 T soy sauce

4 T sesame oil

Mix all ingredients together and let it sit for at least 30 minutes. Wrap away!

Happy New Year to all!

Holiday Bingo

This year my eldest daughter wanted to try her hand at some holiday crafts.  I figured it would be fun to try some more creative and challenging crafts so we looked at pinterest and I let her choose what to do.  She ended up wanting to make a holiday bingo game as a gift for her 2-year old cousin.  It was very sweet, although explaining to a 5-year old why bingo may not be an age appropriate gift seemed beyond her.  She just looked at me with wide eyes and said “It’s okay mommy, she can just use it when she’s older!”  (Shrug and sigh).

Most DIY bingo sets were printed from a computer,  but since I don’t own a printer I figured we could draw them by hand. My daughter got to choose all the icons and colors.  She actually drew each one for me and colored them so I knew what she wanted,  then I transcribed them to each board in random orders. The bingo pieces ended up being pennies we painted with nail polish and the dice we made were little wooden craft blocks that we drew the icons onto and colored.

I think this set is really cute and thoughtful, and it was a lot of fun for my daughter and me to put together. Hopefully her cousin will really enjoy the set when she gets older! Did you make anything special for yhe holidays?  Happy holidays to all!