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!

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 Cheer to Share

It’s the most wonderful time of the year again!  I love the holidays and the festive nature.  Seeing all the decorations, hearing the wood crackle as you build a fire, smelling the aromas of cinnamon and gingerbread, these are all things I associate with the holidays.  I can’t believe the year has flown by so quickly and we are here once again!

This year I (finally) started thinking of holiday gifts far enough in advance to plan for something other than a gift card for my children’s teachers.  I trolled ideas on pinterest and thought of what gifts both my girls could help make.  I settled on homemade hot chocoate mix with individualized marshmallows.  I saw a pin of marshmallows decorated using food coloring pens that I thought would be fun for the girls to make. 

I ordered some small metal tins on Amazon,  found some circular holiday stickers for the lids,  and used a 2.5″ circular punch to make an instructon label to fix to the back. This is the result. 

The girls had a great time decorating the marshmallows and helping me make the cocoa mix.  I ended up pre-mixing sugar with Ghiradelli cocoa powder and then packaging them into the tins, with the help of my eldest.  I got small 4″ clear cookie bags for the marshallows and found a great 6″ striped holiday cookie bag for the overall package.  I hope the teachers and care providers like these handmade gifts!

What are you making for the holidays?

The Communal Table

IMG_7230

One thing about living in a rented apartment is this: you never want to invest in nice furniture as you know you are only in a temporary living situation.  This held true for most of the furniture that we had previously owned and moved into our new house.  However, you get to a certain point in life where you just don’t want to settle for crappy college-grade furniture anymore.

We had owned an expandable kitchen table from Ikea for as long as I had lived in New York.  The great thing about this is that it was dirt cheap (I think it was under $50) and it could be either teeny-tiny to fit into our first apartment and seat two people, or it could expand to fit into our second apartment and fit up to 6 people if you pulled it off of the wall.  However, it was starting to show signs of wear as the laminate was beginning to pull off the edges and you could see wear spots in the center of the leaves where we had placed items over the years. Upon moving, we just up and moved this table with us because it was still in decent working condition, and to be honest, we needed to buy beds first as we were lacking in those.

Well, we had decided to host Christmas dinner this year since we have been remiss in all hosting of holidays for the past decade or so, and we needed to buy a new table so that we would have enough places for people to sit.  We figured that we would just buy a new kitchen table since our old one had seen better days and really wasn’t ideally sized for the kitchen in either of its sizes.  We looked at a lot of options: round, square, rectangular, etc. and kept coming back to a rectangle.  Unfortunately many of the tables were either too heavy in the base (the space is quite small so it needed a more delicate look) or the lighter base tables were extremely expensive.  Since this is just the kitchen area and didn’t need a fancy dining table, I didn’t want to spend too much money.  So where did we turn?  Ikea of course.

I can’t believe that even after all this time, sometimes Ikea just has what you need.  We ended up purchasing the Ingo, which is a raw wood table.  We wanted a more muted finish so we ended up whitewashing it and then sealing it with some satin polyurethane.  The final product is quite nice!  The whitewashing is extremely easy.  I forgot to take pictures but the instructions are below:

1. In a plastic container, combine 1 part water and 1 part white paint.  You may want to adjust this depending on the level of opacity you are trying to achieve.

2. Place your wood pieces on a dropcloth or newspapers.  Using a paintbrush, paint on the whitewash mixture in long even strokes.  Using a dry paper towel, white off the excess.  The longer you let the whitewash sit on the wood before wiping, the more opaque the finish.  Also, the more layers you do, the more opaque the finish will be.  We just wanted it not to look so yellow and raw.

3. Once you are happy with the level of opacity, let it sit overnight to dry.

4. Apply 1 thin coat of satin polyurethane to all visible surfaces.  Let this dry for a couple of hours so that it is no longer tacky.

5. Steel wool the surfaces to get out any air bubbles and smooth the surfaces.  The table’s wood is not a great grade so it is a little rough.  The steel wool will help with this.

6. Wipe down the surfaces to remove all the steel wool dust.  Let it dry completely and apply 1 more thin coat of polyurethane and let it dry completely.  Assemble the table and you’re done!

IMG_7227

The Bright Spot

Owning a home takes a lot of patience. I keep wanting everything to be done immediately, but it takes time to figure out how the house is going to reflect the personalities that live within it. I have spent countless hours trolling websites looking at images of things I like and don’t like to try and figure out how I want our home to look.

The previous owner had hired an interior designer. While it was not exactly to my taste, it did possess a “put together” feel. One of the countless items that they had installed were a number of light fixtures throughout the house. The owners were mostly trying to align with the “Victorian” style. The fixtures are mostly heavier and hung lower than I am accustomed to seeing. Not to say that some of the fixtures aren’t lovely, but the wall sconces in the living room are especially not my taste. The moment I walked in the room, I thought the wall sconces and the pendant were extremely heavy and much too large a scale for the room.

20141223_110601

Old Fixture – too ornate and very heavy

I spent a lot of time thinking about and looking for fixtures that I felt would be properly scaled in the space as well as something that would align with my family’s and the house’s “style”. I finally landed on these cool industrial looking fixtures featuring a bare Edison bulb in an oil-rubbed bronze finish. I was lucky enough to find these on sale for half the price of retail at an end of the year sale so I snapped them up and they proceeded to sit around the house for a good two weeks before my husband and I got around to pulling off the old fixtures and wiring up the new ones.

20141223_195939

New Fixture – oh so pretty!

For those of you who aren’t afraid of simple electrical work, this was easy as pie. To remove the fixture, you just turn off the circuit to the light, pull off the old fixtures by untwisting the caps and disengaging the wires, and removing the old mounting plate that screws into the electrical back box (which is secured to a stud in the wall). Then, you mount the new mounting plate w/ the proper mounting screws (we ended up having to get new ones from the hardware store because the ones the fixture came with were way too long), twist the black wires together and cap them, twist the white wires together and cap them, screw the ground wire to the mounting plate, and then attach the fixture.

I am much happier with these new fixtures. Not only do they seem much more appropriately scaled, I feel that their aesthetic just fits the space more nicely. What do you think?

20141223_200031

I think I’m in love….