my quote of the moment: "if you can attain repose and calm, believe that you have seized happiness." ~julie-jeanne-eleonore de lespinasse

November 15, 2012

no name cookies

i mentioned a few days ago about how i made an ice cream cake for my sister's wedding. and through trial and error and test cakes, it was decided that the chocolate cookie crunchies that are found in the middle of commercial ice cream cakes were a requirement in the one i was making.

but do you want to know a hard truth i learned? those cookie crunchies are made in that size. it can't be done by taking regular cookies and crushing them up. trust me, i tried. oreos, chocolate graham crackers, these things, none would crumble into the right size piece. either they would create huge chunks or dusty crumbs. and it didn't matter how i was trying to crumble stuff, i used my food processor, my hands, a bag and a rolling pin, nothing worked well. and so it was decided that we needed to buy the cookie crunchies already made.

but did you also know that those things are hard to find? at a reasonable price at least. and dairy queen told me they wouldn't just sell me a bag of them. so we trekked over to a restaurant supply store and found them. being that they're sold to restaurants and other commercial operations, they are sold in bulk. like in ten pound boxes. ten pounds of cookie crunchies is a lot. and the ice cream cake used surprisingly little.

and so, because i have a huge box of crunchies left, i've decided to get creative with them. because how many can you really eat over ice cream or mixed in yogert?

a few weeks ago, i smushed some into the side of a birthday cake. and a few days ago, i made peanut butter cookies.

the recipe i used for the cookies was one that, after you made the dough, you were supposed to roll small balls of it around in sugar before putting on a baking sheet and smashing slightly with forks. i've seen many recipes for peanut butter cookies written this way, and honestly i usually skip this step. i feel like cookies are unhealthy enough without the extra sugar stuck to the outside. but then i thought, what if i didn't skip this step? and what if, instead of plain old sugar, i rolled the peanut butter cookie dough around in chocolate cookie crunchies before smashing and baking? it was a crazy idea, but so crazy i figured it just might work.

and it did, even though my hubby took one look at them and thought that i had burnt them. the cookie crunchies didn't really crisp in the oven like i thought they might. in fact, they've absorbed some of the moisture from the cookies and gotten soft. also when my boys dunk the cookies in milk, the crunchy outside turns all mushy.

the only real problem i've had is trying to figure out what to call them. peanut butter cookies with chocolate crunchies? chocolate crunchie peanut butter cookies? peanut butter chocolate crunchie cookies? maybe i'll have to make them again to solved this dilemma.

November 12, 2012

my adventures with ice cream cake

once upon a time, a long long time ago, i made an ice cream cake for my sister's wedding. a huge ice cream cake. the most ridiculous ice cream cake i have ever made. really though, it's not hard to call it the most ridiculous, because i'm really not in the habit of making ice cream cake.

anyway, this was certainly the biggest i've ever made, because my goal as i set out was that it would be able to feed 60 people. so that's a lot of cake. lucky for me, i happen to have a pan that would be big enough to make that many servings. as a bonus, it just fit in my freezer. i thought it would be perfect.

and then i thought some more and realized that when i normally make cakes in this giant pan, they are the regular sort, the kind that take eggs and flour and sugar and get baked in the oven. and because this pan produces such huge cakes, i have something very sturdy that i use to turn them out on: a shelf that came out of an old wall unit. seriously. it's made of particle board and covered with a plastic veneer, and whenever i use it for cakes i usually cover it with foil so it looks all shiny and pretty. but it's perfect for my cake purposes, because the board itself is not heavy, and yet it doesn't bend or warp even when traveling with a 15 pound cake (and that i know from personal experience).

but the problem is that the board would not work to turn the ice cream cake out on. i needed something that i could turn the cake onto, and then set on top of a pan full of dry ice. it had to be something that wouldn't be damaged by the extreme cold and yet would transfer that cold into the cake sitting on top of it so that the ice cream wouldn't melt. and though the board is perfect for regular cakes, wood doesn't transfer cold so well.

my mother came up with a wonderful solution, she bought a full sized sheet pan that i could use. and yet it was not a perfect solution, because a full size sheet pan is not meant to be used outside of commercial kitchens. the sheet pan was too big to fit in my freezer.

and so we had to trouble shoot some more, and figure out a solution. and eventually we did, though i'll admit it made for a less than elegant execution.

i started the ice cream cake making process by lining my huge cake pan with plastic wrap. then i took cartons of ice cream (the flavor of choice happened to be rocky road), peeled off the cardboard container and sliced it into half inch thick pieces. i laid those in the bottom of the pan, and used the heat from my hands to melt everything into one giant layer. then i covered it with more plastic wrap and put in back in the freezer to harden.

the next day i took out the pan and spread marshmallow fluff over the first layer. i used marshmallow instead of the normal fudge because i thought it worked better with the rocky road flavor. then i spread a generous layer of cookie crunchies on top of the fluff. did you know that cookie crunchies are hard to find in a regular store? and did you know, if you do have to turn to a restaurant supply store, they only sell them in 10 pound boxes? it's true, i know from experience, which is why i could be so generous with the crunchy layer. then i covered my work and put it back in the freezer to set.

once the cake was hard again, i cut more blocks of ice cream to make the bottom layer, exactly like i had done with the first layer. i then froze it overnight before i turned it out onto my cake board and covered it with white chocolate whipped cream frosting. yes, i used the wooden board, covered with parchment, because the board fit in my freezer. plus it was easier to travel with. the parchment meant that all i had to do was slide an offset spatula under it and slide it onto the full sheet pan at the reception.

it was a great plan, except for the fact that the wedding coordinator decided to be help and set the ice cream cake up. but she didn't remove the wooden board first, and by the time it was noticed, the cake had already begun to melt. not that it was really her fault, because there had been a breakdown in communication. she didn't know my plan, and i didn't know of her help. still, the cake was a hit, even though it was a bit soft. and there was more than enough to go around.

still, i don't think i'll be making another ice cream cake anytime soon. though i do have a lot of cookie crunchies on my hands. but i think i can come up with some creative uses for them.

November 10, 2012

my favorite holiday

it's almost thanksgiving! seriously i am so ridiculously excited. it is my most favorite holiday of the year. i love it so much i made a huge thanksgiving dinner for my birthday one year, and my birthday's in july. i can still remember the first time i tried to roast a turkey, i was only 12. it's like my christmas. in fact i think it's way better than christmas.

not that i have anything wrong with those that consider christmas their favorite holiday. i don't like it because for me it always gets awkward. the gift giving and the gift getting, why does it always seem required?

take away the presents and commercialism from christmas, and you're left with special traditions and spending quality time with family and friends, and that is everything i love about thanksgiving. that and of course the food!

i'm a huge foodie, just in case you haven't realized it yet. reading about it, researching it, making it, and of course eating it. food for me is way more than simple nourishment, it calms and comforts and brings people together. i love trying new things, whether it's eating them or making them.

unfortunately, it's been many years since i was able to host thanksgiving dinner. it doesn't stop me every year from looking forward to all the articles and sites dedicated to thanksgiving recipes. and the fancy table settings. and the cute kid crafts. and the new themes.

still, even though i might not be in charge of the whole meal, whenever we spend the holiday with my inlaws i am in charge of the desserts. and i kinda think that's the best part anyway. from making my grandmother's pumpkin pie recipe to trying new apple desserts, thanksgiving always gives me the chance to continue traditions and get creative with new favorites. for me, it really is the best time of the year.

November 8, 2012

sick kids that are not sick

so you might not think it from looking at him, but my dear lumpy is frail and sickly. like seriously, just because he's bigger then almost everyone else his age, he seems to get sick a lot. but he's a trouper and deals with it well. after so many years of taking so many meds everyday, he's kind of gotten used to popping pills and chugging shots out of medicine cups and taking his puffer when he needs it.

and he's been feeling so much better lately. in fact, we've been able to wean him off of almost everything that he was taking on a daily basis. he only has to take his allergy medicine, and soon we get to stop that until spring. of course we still have to monitor him closely, because if he starts to slip, the it's back to the regime of puffs and pills.

still, i worry about him and his health. part of it is because there is so much unknown with his sickness, the hope has always been he'd grow out of whatever was the cause, but there was never anything definite beyond that hope. the other, bigger part that causes me worry is that i feel responsible for how everything was handled in the very beginning. he was young and had the flu. i was in contact with his pediatrician, and we pushed fluids and gave tylenol and i decided to wait a few days to see if he got worse. and then he collapsed and we took him to the er and all hell broke loose. and i still feel like it was my fault, because i couldn't see how sick he was, and didn't realize how bad it had gotten, and i should have been able to protect him from getting sick in the first place.

ah mommy guilt, does it ever really get better?

anyway, fast forward to a few days ago when he started to complain that his tummy didn't feel good. and then he had to keep going to the bathroom. the week before his sister had come down with a terrible stomach bug, and i wasn't surprised that he was feeling the effects too.

part of me knew that it would pass. it was the kind of thing that antibiotics didn't help, but at least he was old enough and big enough i could give him something for his tummy, unlike poor fish who moaned and complained and took four hour naps. (also, pullups are great for some things, but they do not contain the big messes. lucky for me i had a blanket on the couch that day.) there was another part of me that was worried that this would develop into something more serious. and so i kept him home.

it's been two days of him "not feeling well." and of him chugging gatorade. but also he's been sitting and watching cartoons and chasing the cats and playing video games. and complaining that he's bored and wants to ride his bike outside. and not once did he lose his appetite, unlike fish who refused to eat.

so i realized earlier today that, though he was sick, he is also a very smart boy. smart enough to play off my worry and guilt. and when the wrestling and jumping around rivals the activity levels on the best days of summer vacation, i know he's not all that sick. so i gave him an ultimatum: if he was well enough to go outside and play with his brother this afternoon, then he was well enough to go to school tomorrow.

and guess who's not missing his math test tomorrow?

November 7, 2012

french toast casserole

i've talked here about my love of breakfast, especially for dinner. brunch is right up there close to the top of the list of things i enjoy stuffing in my face. i've also mentioned how my dear hubby is not a fan of breakfast for dinner. or breakfast in general. in fact, i have a feeling if he could eat fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy three times a day, he'd be a very happy man.

lucky for me, my kids share my affinity for breakfast for dinner. and it just so happens that my hubby has entered a few weeks of intense schooling. like he leaves at about 1145am, goes to school all day, then to work, and doesn't return home until 3 or 4am. it's a very long day for him, and at times it's trying for me because i am forced to deal with the little godzilla known as fish all by myself. but because he doesn't eat dinner with us, the kids and i are free to eat whatever we'd like. so of course that means breakfast.

when faced with the monumental task of making breakfast for dinner, i have a few simple recipes that are easy to whip up. i've made baked oatmeal a number of times, loaded with apples and raisins, and my kids all love it. i also have a few different french toast type casseroles that are easy to assemble and then pop in the oven. really, preparing things ahead and then baking them off is totally my style, though i have made pancakes in various flavors a time or two.

when they were younger, i used to make bacon to go along with our breakfast style treats, but, as crazy as it may seem, my kids are not fans anymore. in fact, lumpy has completely lost his love of bacon, and won't eat it even if you force him. i consider not including meat in our menu as marginally healthier, seeing that most breakfast meats, like bacon and sausage, are filled with fat. and less fat from meat mean more syrup without the guilt. according to my boys, of course.

so last night, my kids and i had breakfast for dinner. and i decided to keep it simple and make a french toast casserole. this time i decided to be brave and make one without using a recipe. i've made enough french toast in my day that i figured i was up to the challenge. i also kept in mind that i wasn't just making french toast, i was making a casserole, so instead of the standard mix of eggs and milk and sugar, i threw in some mashed overly ripe bananas. because of the bananas, i decided to add cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, to mirror my favorite banana bread recipe. i also switched out the plain sugar for brown, because i figured the richer flavor would work better, though i didn't use much because i knew my kids would be covering it with syrup. i also used whole wheat bread instead of white, because i'm trying to get my kids to eat healthier. with a splash of vanilla, i mixed everything together and let it sit overnight in the fridge. before i baked it off the next day, i mixed up a crumbly topping of brown sugar, flour, butter, and spices.

the casserole baked up beautifully, and all the kids loved it. even though i added four bananas, their flavor wasn't as pronounced as i would have liked. the casserole wasn't overly sweet on its own, which is exactly how i intended it to be, because like i knew would happen, my boys slathered their pieces with syrup. and of course, the crumbly topping was my favorite part. all in all, it was a dinner success, and so easy i can definitely repeat it for a more appropriate breakfast or brunch dish. or maybe i'll add some peanut butter and chocolate chips next time, and call it bread pudding for dessert.

November 6, 2012

let's talk birthdays and cake

so i happen to have a large nuclear family, with a random assortment of hangers-on. that fact means many things logistically. first and foremost, it means that the holidays are absolutely nuts. who we're spending which holiday with and when and how long we will be staying, it gets a little crazy. vacations are equally complicated. and birthdays, birthdays are the worst.

the problem with birthdays, as in my kids' birthdays, is that our random family is spread far across the state. so to have a huge party with all the family is complicated. it means that one side or the other will have to travel. my side doesn't have a problem traveling up town, but there aren't many good places for parties around where my in-laws live that can easily (and cheaply) accommodate so many. my parents have the space to have everybody, but not everybody is able to travel so far so, what with kids in school and people working weekends. the solution (which i hate) is that we end up having separate parties for the kids. i didn't always envision myself as a mom, but when i did, i always wanted to have all my family from both sides together to celebrate all the important times in my children's lives. and that just doesn't happen often.

but there is a plus about having such a large conglomeration of people that i get to call family, many people means many birthdays. and in my mind, a birthday is just a good excuse for cake (like i really need a good excuse). but this post happens to be about an epic cake i recently made for a joint party for my sister and one mom, so let's talk about that.

i wanted this cake to be special, and i was scouring recipes, looking for the perfect one. and then i asked my sis lots of random questions about her cake preferences. i know she doesn't like chocolate and peanut butter together, because she's crazy like that, but i also found out she doesn't have a sprinkle preference. who doesn't have a sprinkle preference? she's the first i've found. she also said she prefers vanilla cake to chocolate, which gave me a good starting point.

now i know i've talked about how i like to use cake mixes before. and vanilla cake is a kind that you can find very good mixes for. but i wanted this cake to be special, so i started researching vanilla cake recipes online. i found many, some very complicated, some much simpler, but the unifying quality in all the highest rated recipes was that they all used cake flour. which was fine by me, because this was just the excuse i needed to buy cake flour for the first time.

then, after settling on the vanilla cake recipe i was going to use, i started searching for filling and icing recipes. i knew the outside would be covered with chocolate cookie crunchies, because i had a bunch left over from the ice cream cake i made for my sister's wedding (which will be discussed in another post), and i needed to use them up. so i decided to try and make a chocolate filling of sorts. i found a recipe for a chocolate pastry cream which seemed well within my skill level, and i made that. it was delicious, and only after it was done did i realize it was also basically homemade chocolate pudding.

i wanted something a little different for the icing. because the filling was so sweet, and i didn't know how sweet the actual cake would be, i wanted something tangier for the frosting. so of course that meant making a cream cheese icing. and because i can't leave well enough alone, i added some melted white chocolate while it was beating, because i wanted a hint of chocolate in the icing to compliment the chocolate filling on the inside and the chocolate crunchies on the outside.

overall, the cake was a hit. because i wasn't paying attention, i ended over baking the cake layers, and they were a little dry. the combination of the frosting and the cookie crunchies produced a taste just like an oreo, so that might be something i'll try to replicate in the future. because it ended up being three layers, with all the filling and everything else, it was a very rich cake, and could have easily served 20. all in all, i call it a success.

November 5, 2012

oh poodles

any parent of a small child, or a child that once was small, knows one fun little fact. in truth, it's something that anyone that has come in contact with a small child for any length of time probably knows. small children are parrots. not that they hang out with pirates and eat crackers, though mine would love that. what i want to talk about here is that small ones will repeat whatever you say.

sometimes it's funny. saying complicated words and phrases, and then hearing them repeated with a cute little toddler lisp is adorable. or when you have to have a serious talk with one kid, and the little one repeats your lecture, word for word, while standing right behind you. even better is when they copy your stance, hand on hip with one finger raised. it helps to remind you that your kids are only young for so long, and maybe making a huge deal about a messy room that you've told them to clean up for the millionth time is not as world ending as you previously thought.

and their parrot skills are strange at times. hearing them say phrases out of context is weird, but when they say things that are spot on, like "that is absolutely terrible" in response to your complaints about having to put away yet another load of laundry, is even weirder.

though what i really remember from when the boys went through this stage, and it is really brought to mind with my dear fish just entering it, is that they will repeat all the things you don't want them to say. when bumble was around two, you could get him to say anything. in fact, it was his favorite game. it was cute when we'd watch old kung fu movies and he'd yell along and swing a fake sword. it was way less cute when he'd repeat at the dinner table things he might have heard me mention in traffic. and that's what dear fish is doing now: she's telling the boys that "daddy is going to kick your ass" for doing something wrong. not that it ever actually happens, but perhaps it's something she's heard the boys threatened with on more than one occasion.

and so, to combat her developing the vocabulary of a well seasoned sailor, my family and i have tried to use words that sound like the ones we really want to say. like fudge. or dumpster (my sister's favorite). and i've started to use "oh poodles" for just about everything. because even if fishie repeats poodles, it sounds innocent no matter how it comes out. unlike fudge, which if slurred by a two year old just right, still sounds like the f-word we're trying not to say.

the strange things is that now i say it even when i don't have to. even when i'm around other grown ups, or even just by myself, i still say poodles. which i guess isn't so bad, it's safer to be so used to saying it that i won't slip up and say something i shouldn't. at this stage, i'm trying to expand fish's vocabulary in good ways, with words like probably and fantastic. learning all those other words sounds like a job for poppop.

November 3, 2012

please, help and donate

i keep reading posts and articles written by those affected in new york and new jersey by hurricane sandy, and my heart just breaks for them. i remember what it was like to be evacuated, and not allowed home. and then getting back when the water finally goes down, and surveying the damage, when everything smells like sewage and diesel fuel. and realizing how absolutely lucky you were that most of your stuff stayed dry while your neighbors lost their home. and how grateful you were that you had people to help get you back on your feet and a warm, safe, dry place your whole family could call home. also, how hard it is to explain to your kids that sometimes bad things happen in this world, and all we can do is prepare the best we can for the hard times and hope that it's enough.

it's novemeber already, and that is most absolute favorite time of year. and with it comes thanksgiving, which i consider the best holiday of all. but i also realize how hard that will be this year for those hardest hit but this natural disaster. thanksgiving is a time to get together with friends and family, and talk about how grateful you are for all the blessing of the past year. and how does one do that when they don't have a place to gather, and they aren't feeling particularly blessed?

this is the time when we all need to come together, no matter who and what we believe. as a society, we the people need to come together to support each other. we can take small steps and perform little acts of kindness with our own hands for those that need it most. and so, this rambling post is my plea for those that can to donate if they're able. here is the red cross's site, though there are others that are also doing good works.

i know i should just stop reading all the terrible shock-style news articles, but i can't. it's like a scab i like to pick at, one that still hasn't quite healed. before and during sandy, my kids were understandably upset, and i tried to explain to them that we would get through it all together, just like before. and then the storm passed us, and it was nothing. but it's not always so easy for life to return to normal. i still remember (an older post about what i went through with tropical storm lee).