Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Thank you, Blue Apron!

     It wasn't as if I'd fallen to the depths of Hungry Man dinners for the last few years but life happened and the priorities fell in a different place.  One child had turned, not without significant drama, into two and naptimes fell from two down to rare and cherished.  Five years on a single income did not engender in me the thrifty spirit of many a mommy blogger.  I didn't want to blog about the meal I made with only $3.75 worth of ingredients, not because I couldn't but because being thrifty isn't something I find particularly exciting, unless it is airfare.
     In August of this last year, I went back to work teaching full-time, after subbing for two years at the school I used to teach at.  I had always hoped to go back when Rylynn, my youngest was in kindergarten but made the plunge a year early when a job opened and the cards fell into place.  This year was incredibly busy.  I very cockily assumed I could get my ESOL certification while getting used to my first year teaching with the added pressure of children at home.  It just about drove me crazy to spend my weekends writing papers on top of writing new curriculum and trying to be a good mom but it's summer now, and I made it.  
     About Christmas I made some changes to stave off the crazy.  I detailed my car, something I had never done and that epiphany opened the door to a whole host of things to make my life more organized and less overwhelming.  I asked the mother of a student who cleans home to clean out home on a regular basis.  While at my cousin's, they told me about Blue Apron, a meal delivery service they use to cook gourmet meals while working full time as lawyers.  They gave us a free week and I was in.  The box comes each Friday with pre-measured ingredients and a beautiful colored full-sized recipe card.  The meal takes no more than an hour to cook.  It has been the perfect match for our family.  The recipes are varied, healthy, and creative.  
    The picture above is one of our meals for this week, Beef Tacos & Roasted Green Beans with Cucumber-Avocado Salsa.  These tacos had some classic Mexican flavors but the salsa's use of cucumber and radish added a unique peppery crunch.  Instead of spending my valuable weekend time trying to decide on a weekly menu, I was able to open a box Friday afternoon and know I had two healthy meals for my family to try. Thank you, Blue Apron!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Eyrleigh's Fall Nature Party

A few days ago, I blogged about Rylynn's birthday July!  In keeping with the catching up theme, I'm blogging today about Eyrleigh's, you guessed it, February.  Oh, well!
This past August, our family traveled to Glacier National Park in Montana and during that trip I decided Eyrleigh's party was going to incorporate hiking somehow!  I wanted a party idea that was fun for both boys and girls as many of Eyrleigh's good friends are little boys.  We have been super lucky with great weather for her birthday every year and I was counting on that this year.  One of the county parks near us has a mixed paved and dirt wooded trail system and I knew it would be perfect for a hiking themed party.  I sprang the $100+ to reserve the pavilion to guarantee I had the space to myself and in the event of rain. 
I love and changed out the words in this Thanksgiving dinner invitation to fit what we needed.  link to invitation  I had done a similar thing for Eyrleigh's second birthday (turkey themed) and plan to use a 4th of July invitation for Rylynn's second birthday. 
 As kids arrived we had them decorate their prepared bags for the scavenger hunt.  I bought large brown paper bags with handles at Hobby Lobby,  tied a pencil to them with ribbon, and glued this awesome nature scavenger hunt page I found online.  printable link here

 After the kids had their bags, they moved on the other stations around the pavilion.  One station was "Make your Own Trail Mix".  In the picture you can see I used large roasting pans to hold trail mix options.  Each child was given a small bag and could scoop in their own choices for their mix.  I had pretzels, mini-marshmallows, raisins, dried bananas and pineapple, M & M's, and Cinnamon Chex.  I left out any nuts as we had 3 kids with severe peanut allergies.

The other station was the bird feeder station.  I had seriously considered having the kids paint birdhouses but this was cheaper and had less clean-up.  I saved toilet paper tubes for a few weeks and had enough for each child.  I purchased soynut butter (see the above note on peanut allergies) to spread on the toilet paper tubes.  Then the kids rolled their covered tube in bird seed.  They sell butcher's string at the grocery store but I couldn't find it.  I asked the butcher where it was and he just gave me some for free.  I used about a foot and a half per kid.  They simply put the string through the tube and when they got home, tied the whole thing to a tree branch.  Any mess could be swept into the grass as birdseed and nut butter are highly biodegradable!

All the things we needed!
I included a few pictures of Eyrleigh and I making a few more at home to show how totally doable and surprisingly mess free it was.  I used cookie sheets to contain the birdseed and other than a little nut butter on kid's hands, it was really clean.  I had each kid put their feeder in a baggie right away to take home.  Probably the most notable thing from these instruction pictures is that when I go back to work, I need to buy jeans that fit!
Spread the nut butter all over the tube with a knife

Roll the tube covered with nut butter in birdseed

Put a piece of string in the tube and tie to a nearby tree.

After the kids had time to decorate their bags and make their trail mix and a bird feeder, it was off on the scavenger hunt.  We had walked the trail beforehand and since these kids were mostly 4 and 5, their parents came along.  The trail was about a mile and we took about 30-45 minutes to walk it while looking for our items.  The trail passed a pond, passed through a field, and went up through pretty heavy woods.  Richard led the group and I played sweeper.  Considering the kid's ages and the distance, everybody did great!  Honestly, I heard more comments from the adults about getting tired!  The kids loved it!  The hunt kept them distracted and there was plenty to look at.
The best part about doing a party at the park is the playground.  You don't have to worry about kids who finish the activities sitting around and getting bored.  There is entertainment right there.  We saved the "cake" for the end!  I had no interest in worrying about a large cake and the trash of plates, forks, and napkins.  I considered cupcakes but with close to 30 kids, I did not want to be up all night making them.  Initially, I thought about making s'mores but the whole fire and kids thing made me nervous.  I finally settled on mock s'mores.  I sandwiched marshmallow Fluff and chocolate frosting between two graham crackers and wrapped it in tinfoil.  It was perfect!  My one suggestion would be to make these treats right before the party.  We did and I was very glad!  I tried a leftover one the next day and the graham cracker was mushy.  These treats were easy to transport and perfect for kids who wanted to run off to the playground anyway.  We put a candle in a  jumbo marshmallow on a graham cracker smeared with chocolate frosting for Eyrleigh to blow out when we sang.  This party was relatively inexpensive compared to last year's pj extravaganza and just as much fun.  I was much less stressed since 75 people did not descend on my house!  The kids loved it and several friends told me they were copying the ideas in their own parties or with their children's classes.  That makes it a huge success in my book!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Tardy Peter Rabbit Party

 Blogging about your child's birthday party is much like giving wedding gifts.  You have a year to get it done!  Rylynn's birthday is in July and it is only February so I am well within the time frame:)
Both of my children's first birthday themes have been based on their nursery theme.  Eyrleigh had butterflies, hence a butterfly birthday.  Rylynn had Peter Rabbit and so I knew that had to be the theme of her first birthday party. 
I could not have chosen a better theme for a simple party on the road.  This year we were up at my parent's home in New Hampshire for Rylynn's birthday so I had to have simple decoration and food ideas.  My parents live in a pretty rural area so any party supplies had to be brought with us or purchased from the very limited selection at the small grocery store near them.
*While I'm mentioning it, you may notice the pictures for this blog entry are much better than any other post on this blog....there is a reason for that.  My incredible friend, Devi Knapp, travelled with us to New Hampshire and took these and hundreds of other incredible pictures.  If you live in the Atlanta area, check her out at would be an incredible photographer for any event!*
I brought along just a few things for decoration, hoping to find some great additions at my mom's house.  I really hit the jackpot.  I know my mom keeps a lot of stuff but I arrived to see a  tablecloth she was putting away with vegetables on it.  It was perfect with a green table runner down the middle.  Mom had an old red metal watering can that we filled with flowers and the Peter Rabbit stuffed animal and book I'd brought completed the centerpiece.
   The best thing I found that tied this party together and cost me all of $5 on Amazon was a Peter Rabbit Party Book.
It's a delightful book with everything you would need for a simple small party.  It has invitations, place cards, puppets, and masks, as well as creative thematic suggestions for food and games.  I bought it used and nothing had been removed or damaged at all.  I included two close up shots of the masks cut out and an invitation and place card.  Just adorable!
I decided to do a brunch as the party crowd was pretty small, that's all of us minus our amazing photographer in the photo above!  I kept the brunch menu simple.   I made two fruit salads, one berry and one melon.  I had yogurt and granola in separate bowls and a frittata.   We had a selection of juices and coffee for those of us who had been up a little late cutting out masks and lettering cards!
 Every birthday party needs a cake, even at ten o'clock in the morning so we stayed thematic with carrot cake.  I seriously debated making a cake.  Devi has actually made and decorated cakes for a bakery.  In the end, we decided the cakes at Hannaford's looked really good and would take a whole lot less time!  We bought some icing to decorate them and called it a day!    They were really good too.  The smaller one made for a good size smash cake just for Rylynn.  I love the picture of her and her daddy enjoying it together.   Happy Birthday, my baby girl!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Super Bowl XLVII- The Desserts Win!

A small sampling of the Super Bowl desserts...complete with napkins I bought on clearance years ago
 The problem with posting your ideas for themed Super Bowl desserts after the big game is this...Will these two teams ever play each other again in the Super Bowl so I can duplicate this idea?   Chances are slim but I suppose it's possible. 
Last night's game didn't hold a lot of intrigue for me.  I'm a sports fan but two weeks before I was entertained by the possibility that my home team (the New England Patriots) and the team of my home (the Atlanta Falcons) would play tonight.  After the disappointment of neither team making it, I was a bit underwhelmed by the thought of watching two teams I've never had a particular affinity to.
Lord Baltimore "Whoopie" pies
 My solution?  Have fun with the desserts if you don't care about the game!  My dear friend had invited me to her dad and brother's home theatre store (think t.v. in the restroom kind of place) to watch the game and told me to bring dessert for about 25.   I always over bake/overcook so I couldn't just make 50 of one thing.   I decided to go with football shaped brownies as a shoe-in.  Everybody likes brownies and it's easy enough to pipe white laces on top.

Pardon the awful pun:  San Francisco Rice Krispie Treats
I wanted a little more creativity for the other options so I went to the hometowns of both teams.  I googled "classic Baltimore/San Francisco desserts" and immediately found Lord and Lady Baltimore cakes on the All recipes wevsite.  Both were large and intricate cakes, not exactly appropriate for a football buffet so I modified the recipe and got the cake sandwiches you see in the picture.  I made the cake as directed but instead of putting the batter in traditional cake pans, I spread it out on foil lined cookie sheets like a jelly roll cake.  I modified the bake time and cut out football shapes once the cake had completely cooled.  I then mixed the traditional filling ingredients, maraschino cherries, slivered almonds, crushed macaroons, lemon juice, and orange peel with a store bought can of frosting and sandwiched it between to pieces of the cake.  Voila!

And the ace in the hole...Football Brownies!
 For San Francisco, I never found a "classic" recipe that made me think of San Francisco, though someone mentioned Ghirardelli chocolate being from the Bay area at the party.  I'll admit I went a little cheesy and am in no way claiming Rice-a-Roni as San Francisco's contribution to culinary greatness but you have to admit you get it....San Francisco Rice Krispie Treats with laces piped in red and gold.  They made great finger food for a party too. 
So Baltimore may never beat San Francisco in the Super Bowl again but they sure were fun desserts to create!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Year of the Dragon- Chinese New Year -1/23/12

Gong Hei Fat Choi!  Happy Chinese New Year!   I've mentioned many times I'm a sucker for themes and nothing brings out themes like international holidays.  Chinese New Year is an easy holiday for anyone to celebrate.  Chinese food (or an Americanized version) is easy to find and many websites suggest fun ways to decorate for the holiday.  I used to find a simple kid-friendly menu and  for some cute Chinese New Year printables.  Eyrleigh and I decorated the table together.  I had some gold place mats and napkins that I tied with red ribbon.  I found some pillar candles and an Asian-style vase to make a centerpiece.  We printed out a lantern to glue together and some lucky money envelopes.  I slid some money in and Eyrleigh could barely wait to open her envelope.  She was so excited!
The menu on epicurious was titled "Chinese in a Flash" and it was a super easy take on Chinese that Eyrleigh loved.  The main dish of Hoisin Chicken in Lettuce Leaves was chicken and water chestnuts  in a simple sauce.  Eyrleigh doesn't like lettuce much, I think it's textural, so she ate her chicken without the lettuce.  Flavor wise, this is not an outstanding dish but it has simple flavors and is super easy to make so until I have more time (no crying 6 month old who won't eat any of this anyway!), this menu gets the point across. 
The Chinese Style Mushroom and Tofu Soup was also simple and not particularly flavorful but it was quick and easy.  It is a great introduction to tofu if you are not sure what your child (or husband:) will think of it.  The broth flavors the tofu and helps mellow the textural uniqueness of tofu.  I served these dishes with brewed green tea.
The dessert is a bit strange and though Eyrleigh loved it, I'm not sure I will repeat this recipe.  The Mandarin Orange Napoleons use the super kid friendly canned oranges which immediately makes them tops in my child's book.  I however could live without the candy sweet little things and liked them even less in what basically amounts to cream cheese frosting.  I also was very annoyed at the directions to bake the filo dough layers for 10-15 minutes.  The first batch burned to a crisp in 10 minutes and even the second batch that I only cooked for 8 minutes was dark and tasted burnt on the edges. 
Next year, I may try to amp up the authenticity in dishes but for my first Chinese New Year with two, this menu worked and allowed for some time to make some fun crafts.  I tried to get Eyrleigh to make a dragon for Richard's place setting but she ended up gluing white paper and some origami I made.  Rylynn played with (ate) her little toys and was just as happy with pureed butternut squash.  I look forward to next year as Eyrleigh gets more artistic and Rylynn will be old enough to scribble something.

Resolving- 1/22/12

I've always loved the prospect of a new year with new goals and new challenges. I hear some say that making resolutions just sets one up for failure but I for one love to feel like I can try again. I've even made and stuck to some significant resolutions over the years. After years of resolving the read the whole Bible in a year, I finally did it in 2001 and then again in 2010. Thankfully, major weight loss has never been an issue for me but in 2008 I did my first triathlon, in 2009 I did my first half marathon, and one of these years, when training doesn't involve pushing a jogging stroller, I will do a full marathon. This year, I didn't even think about resolutions until we were a few days into 2012. Rylynn was sick and we were up in New Hampshire at my mom and dad's.

I've always been a big fan of practical resolutions.  Eat healthier is too vague and impossible to quantify.  Eat more homemade meals is better but still not specific enough for me.  My food resolution for this year was to make weekly menus to help us save money and eat healthier.  This resolution stems from my total respect of a friend who writes out her menu for the month ahead of time and has it sitting on an easel in her kitchen.  (Yes, Beth Etheridge is my organization goddess!)  When I was blogging about Gourmet magazine, I loved that I never wondered what we would have for dinner.  I just looked on the menu I had written from the magazine and made what it said.  You would think there would be nights I wouldn't be "in the mood" for whatever I had written weeks before but I found that I was almost always looking forward to what I had written.  I didn't have to think about what I was "in the mood" for and the freedom of that took away the desire for anything else. 
I found the first week I wasn't prepared to write out a menu for the whole month.  I didn't have the energy to plan that out and it didn't allow for repeats. (Okay, it did but I didn't know how close was too close.)  I did however write themes for the days as a guide in deciding.  Monday is my planned shopping day so it doesn't make sense to put a meal that took a lot of preparation.  Tuesdays work for crockpot meals as those leftovers will be good in lunches throughout the week.  Wednesday is perfect for my favorite Mexican cuisine, Thursdays for pasta, and Friday I wrote soup/sandwich or something special.  To be honest, I am totally comfortable veering from this schedule but it gives me a base when I get stuck. 
Well, the first two weeks are in the books and I have to say that it worked well.  I didn't get pictures of every night.  I haven't blogged as frequently so photographing my food isn't second nature anymore.  I did take some pictures and I'm a little embarrassed.  It looks like we ate out of bowls the entire two weeks.   We didn't but I only remembered pictures the nights we did.  I have a post coming up about my remorse for food snobbery but here let me suffice it to say that Taste of Home, a cooking magazine I had previously seen as less than gourmet has become the main tome in my cooking magazine library.  This magazine uses very accessible ingredients, has lots of kid friendly recipes, and has upped their use of creative menus making it a new favorite.  That being said, I used recipes from Bon Appetit and Food and Wine as well.  I won't list the family menu here but I will say that the four pictures represent some really good dishes.  The top picture is the Texas Beef Brisket Chili from Bon Appetit's October 2008 issue.  Several reviews mentioned that the brisket was greasy so I used stew beef as recommended and used the crockpot instead of a dutch oven.  I love the butternut squash in this chili.  It adds depth and you can see from the picture that I also added beans toward the end of the cook time.  This helped make the chili more of a meal and added some extra flavor to the meaty dish.
The second picture is the Baked Potato Cheddar Soup from this month's issue of Taste of Home.  This soup was super thick (you can tell from the picture) and needed a little blending (I used my food processor) that the recipe didn't tell you about but it was very good.  I served this soup with a No-knead Harvest Bread from the same issue that was excellent.  In the third picture I had taken great liberties with the Zesty Chicken Tortellini Soup, also from Taste of Home, but again the soup was very good.  The final picture is some Cornmeal Dinner Rolls, again from Taste of Home, that I will be making again and again.  They are a yeast roll with a cornmeal base that are super simple and really delicious.  I'm learning how to use yeast well.  (Why did I not know until now that yeast stored in the refrigerator should be warmed to room temperature before using for the best results?)  These rolls were one of my first real successes and I hope I can duplicate them again and again.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Craziness....Your name is December!-12/11

Nope, didn't post the whole month of December!  I'm only posting now so I remember a few things when I start the crazy cookie train next year.  One, I do not like the combination of mint and chocolate.  I know, I'm weird but Andes mints don't do it for me and sadly, neither do really cute, totally thematic holiday whoopie pies.  The Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies in the December '05 Bon Appetit are beautiful.  They scream Christmas cheer and if you do like the chocolate/ mint combination, by all means, make these!  They just weren't for me.  I want my chocolate rich and warm, the very opposite of a breath mint!
I did find a simple cookie that I want to make again and again and again and I don't even think you have to wait for Christmas.   The Cardamom Crescents in the December '11 Bon Appetit were excellent.  Sadly, my crescent making skills are somewhat lacking as the picture shows but do not be deterred.  These cookies had a wonderful warm spice taste (I obviously like "warm" in my cookies.) and the pecans added depth to the flour base.  I found myself eating these cookies in the morning as well as they were not too sweet and heavy.                                                    I didn't get a picture of the Chewy Ginger Cookies, also from the Dec '11 issue of BA but these were also a great simple cookie.  The addition of raw ginger, ginger powder, and crystallized ginger made them delightfully spiced and a quick roll of the dough in raw sugar made every cookie look great.  These cookies were my go-to cookie for exchanges this holiday season.  They were quick to make, looked good, and every one loves ginger cookies at Christmastime. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pajama Partying!-11/11/11

Several months ago, I began looking around on the Internet for good ideas for a 4-year-old pajama themed party.  I decided to have a pajama party when I realized that Eyrleigh's preschool's major fundraising event of the year fell on her actual birthday and there was no way I was going to pull off both on the same day.  That left Friday night available for a party and what better way to party at night than in your pajamas!  
I decided to choose the decorative stuff for the party around the pajamas Eyrleigh picked to wear for that night.  We went shopping at some of our favorite stores at the mall and she FINALLY picked a pair of Old Navy pajamas that were liliac and purple with a cheetah (or it could have been a leopard, I never did figure that out!).  So purple cheetah print it was!  I'm not an animal print fan myself but there is a lot of animal print stuff out there so it made it easy...sort of.  Purple cheetah print was a little tougher to find than pink.  I never did find full bolts of purple cheetah print but I did find a website,, that had strips of purple and pink cheetah print to use in decoration. 
Every good party has to begin with cool invites and I found some I loved on Etsy from a vendor, Cutie Patootie Creations (   Stephanie was super quick to respond and made some changes that went perfectly with what I wanted.  She changed the little girl's hair to red to match E's and changed the text on the thank-you card to let guests know to bring new pajamas to donate to the Pajama Program (check them out at in lieu of gifts.  The only thing I would have changed was the wording of "regrets only" to "RSVP".  I think RSVP makes people more conscientious about letting you know if they are coming and also would have let me know how many adults and extra kids to plan for. 
I used the strips of purple and pink cheetah print fabric to decorate the table and used liliac and purple party supply stuff from Party City as the base.  You can't see it in the picture but I also got a "Happy Birthday" banner from Cutie Patootie to go above the table.  We had hot dogs, chili, chips, juice boxes, and soda available for dinner.  Richard did grilling duties and Mom helped me with the chili that was in the crockpot all day.  One of the other cool things I found in purple cheetah print was edible cake stickers. (link here)  I always have my girlfriend Devi make the cake for us.  She does a beautiful job (she decorated cakes for a bakery in college) and I love that E's cakes are one of a kind.  The cake sticker was the size of a sheet of paper and Devi just cut out the pajamas, slippers, and letters for the cake and decorated around them.  It made it really easy (for her, still would have been hard for me!) and though the stickers taste like fondant (YUCK!) there wasn't enough used to detract from the yummy buttercream frosting.
There are some wonderful party design sites on the web and I love to look through their amazing ideas for decorations and food.  But here's the truth, kids could care less if you label the food with matching labels and color coordinate your table.  Kids want to have fun and a party without activities will quickly become a nightmare for all involved.  Since I had 40 (yes, you read that right!) kids on the invite list, never mind their parents and siblings, I knew I had to have lots of activities and have them spread throughout the house.  My house is not that big and is chopped into rooms instead of the more modern large living/dining/kitchen area that can fit lots of people at once.   The picture below shows the sign that greeted guests as they came in. 

Each activity followed in the pajama party theme.  The most ambitious project was to make each child a pillowcase with their name on it.  I bought 14 yards of inexpensive white fabric and cut it in one foot sections.  Using the fabric edge as the top seam, I simply sewed up the two sides and flipped the case inside out.  Obviously these cases wouldn't fit standard size pillows but they were fun to decorate with stickers and could hold the treasures the kids collected in another activity.   Mom and I cut every kid's name out of the cheetah print fabric in either purple, pink, or brown.  I used Steam-A-Seal 2 Double Stick Fusible Webing to first iron the webbing to the print fabric, then the letters to the pillowcase.  I didn't give myself time to reinforce these letters by stitching but it would have been a good idea as some of the letters started coming off at the party.   I had debated printing the letters for each child's name on the computer but writing it out by hand was actually pretty cute!  I attached a couple of pictures so it looks pretty doable.  It really was!

I took an extra queen mattress and put it in the middle of the floor in Rylynn's room and let the kids jump on it.  We let the kids play in Eyrleigh's room and set out her toys.  We turned on Dinosaur Train, her favorite PBS show in the office, for kids to watch if they wanted.  My dad, who generally hides during parties, hid out in our room with some stuffed animals and buckets.  He had fun showing kids how to play Stuffed Animal Horseshoes!  The kids favorite activity was probably the treasure hunt in our backyard.  We gave each child a flashlight (the super-cheap ones at Oriental Trading) and sent them into the backyard to look for treasures in the dark.  Thankfully our yard is fenced in and the pool is on the deck so it was a relatively safe activity.  The treasures were those glass beads you put in vases to hold plants, some silly bands on clearance, and a few bags of small decorative shell you can buy at the craft store for a few dollars a bag.  The kids loved them!
After the cake, we had all the kids move to the living room and we showed the birthday episode from the cute series "Harold and the Purple Crayon".   As the kids left, we gave them a bag with a book ($1 books from Scholastic), Oreo cookies, and a carton of milk. 
I was really happy with how the party went.  It was a bit crowded and we forgot to tell our friend, Jennifer, who was taking pictures that our camera has a manual flash, so none of the midparty pictures turned out at all but really it was a success!  The picture  shows the almost 30 pairs of pajamas that we were able to donate to the Pajama Project for kids in need.  How cool is that!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pumpkins and Pinterest-10/27/11

 Ever since I began this blogging thing I've wanted to post my own recipe on "Cooking Mag Mommy".  I struggle with one big question though.  What makes a recipe mine?  When am I no longer copying the ideas of others and coming up with something "original" to me?  I mean...bake at 350.  Not exactly a novel idea!   Tonight I made a pumpkin pull-apart bread adapted from a recipe I found through on the blog, "Sunny Side Up in San Diego". recipe link here  Earlier this week, I had made a Garlic Parmesan Pull-Apart Bread I found on the blog "The Pastry Affair" using, another awesome site I've been using to find great recipes on blogs. recipe link here  The recipe I came up with used measurements and cooking techniques from both recipes but the finished product really was its own recipe.   And it was really good!  Richard and I ate over 1/2 of it while watching the World Series tonight.
Here's my recipe!   I'm so proud...

Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Pumpkin Bread with Rum-Soaked Raisins

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup milk
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
11/4 cups sugar, divided
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup rum (optional)
1/3 cup raisins (optional)

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  Pour melted butter into large bowl then heat milk to warm in same saucepan.  Add milk to the melted butter.  Cool milk/butter mixture to warm (between 100 and 110 degrees) then add the yeast and 1/4 cup of sugar.  Let this yeast mixture sit until foamy, up to 10 minutes.  Add the the pumpkin, salt, and 2 cups of flour. Stir by hand or mix in stand mixer with dough attachment until combined.   Add the rest of the flour 1/2 cup at a time and knead by hand or machine for 6 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Put dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or towel. Allow to rise in warm draft free area until doubled in size (an hour to an hour and a half).  While dough is rising, soak raisins in rum in a small bowl if desired.

Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. Mix the the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in another small bowl.  (If you choose to add rum soaked raisins, add them to the cinnamon sugar mixture.)  Spray the bottom of a bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Punch down dough and pull off small spoonful size pieces.  Roll each piece of dough into a ball and dip in melted butter.  Then roll each ball in cinnamon sugar mixture and put in bundt pan, covering the bottom with the small balls of dough.  When all the dough has been rolled in cinnamon sugar and placed snugly in the pan, cover the pan with a clean towel and let rise for 30-45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the bread for 30-35 minutes.  Let cool for 5 minutes in pan then turn carefully onto wire rack or plate, then flip onto other plate or rack so bread holds its shape.  Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

This yummy bread recipe was not the only pumpkin inspiration I've had of late.  The very top picture is Rylynn looking all ready for Halloween with a cute shirt from her grandma and an adorable pumpkin hat.  I whipped up that hat last week and have made two more since for several friends who have kids Rylynn's age.   It's so cute and easy.  I found the directions through, on a blog titled "My Bountiful Life".   I linked her free pattern here. pumpkin hat pattern link here 

I couldn't post about all my fun pumpkin themed projects without putting in a picture of my two favorite pumpkins all dressed up in their Halloween costumes.  There is some debate between Richard and I about how exactly we came up with the idea to do slightly irreverent matching costumes for the girls.  I'm sure you can tell from the picture but we convinced Eyrleigh to be a scuba diver (anything but a princess!).  I found some great ideas...on pinterest...that involved her own black clothes, soda bottles, and duck tape.  She looks great, though I seriously doubt she'll wear the goggles over her eyes at all!  We found a infant shark costume at Old Navy for Rylynn and for my favorite part of the whole thing, I made Ry a little sign that says "Give my sister candy or I bite".  I posted this same picture on Facebook and everyone loved it!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Great Halloween Read-Alouds-10/25/11

There will not be a single mention of food or cooking in this entire post...wait, that was a mention!  Oh well...
With Halloween right around the corner, I wanted to put in my votes for great Halloween read-alouds for preschoolers.  These are my current favorites to read to Eyrleigh and Rylynn and I'm planning on bringing them along to E's preschool class party on Monday.  Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson has all the qualities of a great preschool read-aloud.  It has a wonderful rhyming cadence and a repetative story that is easy for young children to follow.  There is even a "group participation" posibility if you want the kids to pipe up as the broom "whoosh"es away. 
Last year I bought The Spooky Wheels on the Bus by J. Elizabeth Mills from the Scholastic Book Fair.  Sung to the tune of the more traditional "Wheels on the Bus", this story is a great one for preschoolers and a reader who can sing.  Using the numbers one through ten and Halloween themed bus "parts" and riders, the whole class can sing and act out this story together.   This one is great for a party where sitting and listening just isn't in the cards.  The kids can sing, wiggle, and make all the silly noises they want and still be a part of the activity.

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams is not a novel pick by any means.  Almost every list I found of Halloween read-alouds included this classic.  Don't worry though, kids could hear this one 100 times and still have fun.  The repeating actions of the scary pumpkin man are great to keep kids engaged and acting out as the story goes along.  Wiggling, shaking, nodding, and clapping is sure to keep little listeners engaged in the story and though the pumpkin man is a little scary for the really little ones, the ending is cute and not at all frightening.
10 Trick-or-Treaters:  A Halloween Counting Book by Janet Schulman was a new one to me this year but I'm  adding it to the repetoire.  The rhyming verses and the counting back from 10 to 1 are great for a preschool class.  The kids are just beginning to recognize numbers and this book has big contrasting numbers on each page that kids can see.  Using their rhyming skills and the visual numbers, most 3 and 4-year-olds should be able to shout out the appropriate number as the story goes along.  It's a  great way to reinforce number recognition in a really fun story.
These are just 4 great read-alouds and I hope to find a few more in time for the preschool party next year!   Reading other reviewers, I think I need to find In The Haunted House by Eve Bunting  and Pumpkin Eye by Denise Fleming.  Have a great week reading to your kids!