Super, Organic, Awesome-Pants Festive Icing!
December 22, 2011 at 6:00 am
I know what you are thinking. That is some headline.
But I had to choose something that showed my excitement at discovering the BEST recipe ever for colorful and festive natural decorating icing.
Until now, I have been at a loss when it comes to cool icing for holiday cookies. The only products out there have trans fat or artificial colors … it’s an organic nightmare.
But recently, I tried the simplest recipe ever — just three ingredients. Ready?
And guess what?! We have bright green trees, pink snowmen, and all sorts of other fun cookies. The icing tastes great and “dries,” so the cookies can be stored and shared.
I start with two cups of sugar and add a few tablespoons of cream. I keep adding cream until it gets thin enough that all the sugar is incorporated, and it is easily spreadable. I then separate small amounts into small bowls and add coloring according to package directions to make lots of beautiful colors!
December 21, 2011 at 6:00 am
I know how those elves feel.
The past week has been a flurry of sewing to get ready for the holidays.
First, there was the new tablecloth for the kids’ table and the napkins. This was important. Many a cup of cider, tea and cocoa has been served here during the past week. It is imperative to be festive.
Next, were the potholders. So far, we have 16. We had a lot of fun with this — taking all the fabric pieces and putting them together so they coordinate but are sort of funky. We bought a roll of fat quarters because I do not always trust myself to not go a little nutty when it comes to combining patterns. This was the perfect approach. Each fat quarter gave us 4 pieces, and with 8 fat quarters, that gave us roughly 26-hundred-bajillion options. That is an estimate.
I needed to work on the kids PJ pants, which I made using this kind of method. Very fun. A favorite tradition around here.
Finally, I moved onto blankets for some of the little people in our lives, including one very, very special little bambino who promises to make an appearance soon. Hooray!
These blankets are very simple — I have tried quilting, but as you can see above, my math skills limit me somewhat to more basic patterns. Instead, I like to choose a yard each of two coordinated fabrics and sew them together. It is pretty much stress-free, and I haven’t heard a baby complain yet.
I wonder if the elves find themselves indulging in too much chocolate and silly late-night movies as they finish up their work before Christmas. I mean, not that I know anyone who does that …
December 20, 2011 at 6:00 am
And so, we find ourselves being mauled by dogs.
This is how it is each Christmas. We choose a weekend when the Midwestern weather is bearable and we head to a near-by farm to pick a tree.
And while we are there, we are attacked by slobbery, adorable puppies — all part of the attraction of this tree farm. We are licked and sniffed until we consider ever so briefly that maybe we need another dog.
Oh wait, no we don’t. We have this dude.
The trek to the tree farm is one of our traditions. It is one of our favorites — it goes along with the tree trimming party, when we make hot chocolate and eat cookies and listen to Billy Idol being strangled to the tune of Silver Bells.
It is pretty much perfect.
Making cookies is another tradition — and the candy canes that magically appear on the tree Christmas morning. How do they do that?
I have continued my mom’s tradition of Christmas pajamas, given to the kids on Christmas Eve. My mom is a genius like this — kids in matching pajamas make the bestest pictures the next morning … the kids all bleary-eyed and in awe of those candy canes and the stuff beneath the tree.
We have our Solstice tradition too — a special dinner for the four of us. The making of ornaments and treats for the animals — the moonlit walk, the outdoor decorating. The cold, the dark.
We return inside to simple food, and candlelight and it feels like something good.
This year, we have decided to change some things — we will be spending a simpler Christmas closer to home. It will be different, but I hope good-different. It has been a work in progress for years.
It can be so hard this time of year, to be slow. Sometimes in an effort just to keep up, we find ourselves forgetting the most important things — losing our way.
And that, maybe, is why the time after the holidays are so important to us as well. A time of warm socks, good books, hot tea … a time to spend huddled close together — the warmth, the re-emerging the light and family. This, might be, the very best tradition of all.
Holiday Making: Vanilla Extract
December 2, 2011 at 6:00 am
Every year, I look for ideas for small things to make for friends and family.
We give a lot of homemade gifts, and I really enjoy having something small and handmade to give to people who have made our year better — friends from the library, co-workers, neighbors.
A few years ago, I heard about making vanilla extract. But I could never seem to start it early enough. Homemade vanilla extract takes about 2 months to steep, which means that ideally, to be a Christmas gift, it should be started around Halloween.
And I am just not thinking about Christmas at Halloween.
But this year, a friend gave me a great idea — make the extract now, transfer it to small glass bottles and label it: “Do not use until Feb. 1, 2012.”
Easy-peasy, right? This year is finally the year!
In researching this process, I have learned that homemade vanilla extract basically has two ingredients: vanilla beans and alcohol. The alcohol is most commonly vodka, though I have found recipes that use rum. Apparently, the cheap stuff works fine. I used some more expensive vodka because it has been sitting in my freezer for two years looking for a home. I also bought some super cheap stuff, so I could make a lot of vanilla.
The process is simple: Split 6 vanilla beans lengthwise, put them in a mason jar, and add 2 cups of vodka. Shake, and leave it alone. Putting it in a dark place is probably a good idea. Closer to Christmas, transfer it to small bottles.
A nice bonus of making your own vanilla is that many commercial brands contain corn syrup, so this is one way to avoid the stuff. Plus, the rumor is that you can continue making vanilla from the same beans several times by adding new liquor to a little bit of vanilla extract left in the bottom of your bottle. (I’ll give it a shot in a few months and let you know.)
My vanilla has only been steeping for a few days (it darkens a little each day), and already, it smells wonderful. I can’t wait to package it up and share it with the bakers in my life, and so many people who have made this year a little sweeter.
Kids, Books and Food: Chicken Soup with Rice
November 30, 2011 at 6:00 am
I love cooking with my kids. It is one of my favorite activities.
But I really, really love combining cooking with our favorite books.
During the next few months, I am looking to share some of our favorite books and corresponding recipes here. These are simple ideas for helping favorite books come to life, and sharing healthy food with kids. I’d love it if you shared some of your favorite books and the recipes that go with as well!
This first book is a long-time favorite around here. We love Maurice Sendak, and for years we have read Chicken Soup with Rice, a book about the months and how chicken soup is always appropriate.
From the book: “I’ve told you once, I’ve told you twice, All seasons of the year are nice, For eating chicken soup with rice.”
We read this book when we make our favorite chicken stock. As we read, the kids chop onions, celery, carrots and parsley. Rice boils on the stove.
When we finish the book, the vegetables go into the pot with a little oil to soften. We add the stock, one cracked clove of garlic, salt, pepper, and the cooked rice, bring it all to a boil and then lower the heat, cooking until everything is tender and the flavors have combined.
Although “all seasons of the year are nice, for eating chicken soup with rice,” we especially like it this time of year.
Do you have a favorite recipe for sharing with kids?
November 24, 2011 at 6:00 am
A small list of some of our family’s Thanksgiving thankfuls …
- our pets — a dog, a cat, a rat and 4 fish
- yummy food
- paper airplanes
- good friends
- time together — this 4-day weekend is really exciting for us!
- the new Muppet movie
- extended family near and far
- a new baby on the way (not ours, but still very special to us!)
- the opportunity to write every day
- little friends who come to visit
- falling leaves
- bike riding
- warm blankets
What are you thankful for today?
MYO: Thanksgiving Placemats
November 23, 2011 at 6:00 am
We had a lot of fun this week making Thanksgiving placemats with some little friends.
These are a simple little project, but they are so fun for the kids to individualize, and they are great keepsakes for parents.
To make each placemat, we used two 12-inch by 6-inch pieces of neutral cotton fabric. The kids used fabric paint and paint brushes to decorate one side of their mats. (It’s fun to add hand prints or other designs.)
When the painting wass dry, I placed the two right sides of the fabirc together and sewed almost all the way around, leaving a small hole for turning. Next I turned the mat right-side-out, folded the edges of the hole under, and top stiched all the way around (I used a zig-zag stitch, but any stitch will do!)
Finally, I added each child’s name and the year in fabric paint. Some years I embroider their names, but this year, I had four to do, so fabric paint was a good substitute!
Voila! Thanksgiving placemats — perfect for meals and snacks all year-round, and for activities like making bread!
How are you getting ready for Thanksgiving in your family?
Celebrating a Cranberry Thanksgiving
November 22, 2011 at 6:00 am
It’s Cranberry Bread Day! It’s Cranberry Bread Day!!
You saw it on your calendar, right? Heard about it on the radio?
Uh-oh. Starting to think that Cranberry Bread Day may be an Anderson Family tradition only …
But it is so fun, and has become so much a part of what makes us look forward to Thanksgiving that I hope you will join us in celebrating!
Our cranberry bread tradition began many years ago, before Ellery was even born, when Owen and I read the book Cranberry Thanksgiving. It is such a sweet story about a grandmother guarding her famous cranberry bread recipe, but the deeper message is that you really can’t judge people based on how they appear, or even if they smell like lavender.
(This book always reminds of my grandparents who often sought out a person who was alone for Thanksgiving and asked them to be part of our family celebration. In college, they often told me to bring friends home who could not travel all the way back to their own hometowns to celebrate. My grandfather always said that we were so lucky to have so much, and to have each other, and it was our duty to share that. So reading this book gives me a chance to tell my kids that story too!)
In the back of the book is a recipe for Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread, and that first year, we tried it. We got lots of recipe requests at Thanksgiving, and the following year, made it again with a few changes.
We keep experimenting based on allergy restrictions and what we think tastes good (fewer raisins, then no raisins, then adding pecans, for instance).
And what we have come up with is our family’s own recipe based on the book, but also a fun family tradition that really is one of my very favorite parts of the year.
Our Cranberry Bread
(based on the recipe from Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin, and pictured here in their muffin form)
2 cups white spelt flour (unbleached flour is fine too!)
1 cup evaporated cane juice crystals or sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup light olive oil
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp grated orange peel
3/4 orange juice
2 1/2 cups cranberries
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Mix dry ingredients (including cane juice crystals or sugar) in a large bowl and set aside. Mix wet ingredients in small bowl. Add wet to dry and mix until just combined. Fold in cranberries and pecans, if using. Spoon into greased loaf pan, cake pan or muffin tin. Cook at 350 degrees for 22 minutes for muffins, 35-40 minutes in a cake pan and 55 minutes to an hour in a bread pan. The bread/muffins is done when a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Note: In the spring we substitute rhubarb for the cranberries! Rhubarb and orange is so yummy together too!
Happy Cranberry Bread Day today!
Do you have a special Thanksgiving tradition? Please tell us in the comments below!
A Shower with Organic Touches
November 10, 2011 at 6:00 am
We spent the end of last week in Nashville, celebrating the coming arrival of a very special little person.
The excited mama and papa had requested a laid-back couple’s shower with a country feel — lots of apple orchard and backyard barbecue.
But the shower featured some very organic touches that made the event unique, like these tiny baby bear honey favors.
We were all so excited to shower this family with good wishes, and of course lots and lots of tasty, organic treats like these mini pumpkin muffins:
Mini Pumpkin Muffins
2 cups flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1 can of pumpkin puree
3/4 cup maple syrup
5 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, chopped
Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add in eggs, syrup, coconut oil, vanill and pumpkin and sitr until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips. Bake in greased mini muffin tins in a 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes.
Bob, the Tree Made out of Bread
November 2, 2011 at 6:00 am
I’d like to introduce you to our friend Bob, the Tree Made Out of Bread.
I mean, I’d like to introduce you, but I kind of can’t anymore, because we ate him.
He was part of our wood-themed class last week at our homeschool co-op. We made some blocks, we read some stories, and then we ate the heck out of Bob.
Bob was very fun to make, even if he did involve transporting my whole oven rack across town. It was worth it. I mean, look at that face. Clearly, he was excited to meet everyone.
If you’d like to make your own Bob (or frankly, about anything else out of dough) I have found this recipe to work really well. It is actually the dough we use for pizza and calzones, so if you want to get really fancy, you can add some herbs like oregano and rosemary. Or, you can just eat Bob with homemade butter — that’s what we did.
Easy Sculpting Dough
We doubled this recipe to make an extra large size Bob
1 cup warm water
2 1/4 tsp yeast
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp salt
about 3 cups flour
(we generally use half unbleached white and half whole wheat; I add in 2 1/2 cups and see how the dough looks and then add more until the dough loses most of its stickiness)
In a large bowl, add water, yeast and honey and let the yeast activate for about 5 minutes until it is nice and frothy. Add in flour and salt and mix well. Knead until the dough is soft and smooth, about 5 minutes. Put in a bowl greased with olive oil and let rise for one hour. Punch down, and use the dough for your sculpture. Build on a greased cookie sheet, or a cookie sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Brush sculpture with olive oil.
Cook at 425 degrees until golden brown and cooked through.