Friday, January 27, 2012

Scrabble, Anyone?

Nick and I have a lot of plans for our house.  It was built in 1969 and hasn't really been changed since.  Most of the work will be on the inside, updating and replacing, no major structural changes.  We recently  started talking about outside and came up with a great idea.
I will admit that this idea spawned from my excessive snooping on Pinterest.  I have acquired way too many project ideas from that site and really need to get started on some of them.  I am particularly excited about this plan for our yard and the fun it will create when we have cookouts.
We have a little kick-out in our driveway that is meant as a turnabout.  The driveway is currently gravel and we would like to eventually pave it (although there is some debate about what the paved surface will be, but that's another story).  We have gone back and forth about whether or not to keep the kick-out spot.  Of course there was talk of a basketball hoop, or a little parking lot with a tiny garage for Ellie's toy cars and bikes, but after seeing this

 we know exactly what we'll do with it!

It would be so easy!  I actually found another example of this that is closer to what would work for us.

We could put in little pavers, and then use squares of plywood as our game pieces.  Painting everything would be a no problem, and it wouldn't even be an expensive project!  I realize Cornhole is the usual yard game at a cookout, but I feel the need to change it up, or at least have options.  Plus, what a great way to help Ellie with her spelling when she's older!  Oh, I can't wait!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Happy Birthday Shelby!

When I was pregnant with Ellie, my sister-in-law and two of our friends were also pregnant, so all four of our children are the same age.  This means they'll all be one year old this year and my niece was the first. 

She had a princess themed party and she was adorable in her princess sash and party hat.

Even Ellie tried out the party hat.

Shelby was next.  I was asked to make the cake for her party.  I was so excited to do it.  The theme was snowflakes, which would have been perfect last year with all the snow we got, but this year it was nearly 50 degrees outside.  Figures.  

(you can't really see it, but there was shimmer dust all over that cake!)

The cake was white cake (yes, from a box) with a white chocolate pudding and raspberry filling.  This is my little secret that I guess won't be much of a secret anymore.  I use box cake because its easier.  There are several cakes I'll make from scratch, but generally I go with the box.  The easiest way to dress it up and make people assume you slaved over it is to make a special filling.  This one sounds fancy and complicated, but it's so simple.  Pudding is always a great filling because it's cheap and easy to make, no fuss.  Plus there are so many different flavors!  Another trick is to use heavy cream instead of milk.  This gives the pudding a thick, rich flavor and texture, almost like custard.  Sometimes I do half whole milk and half heavy cream (this is dessert, no skimping!).  For the raspberry, I used store bought raspberry jam, which I spread on each layer of the cake.  Then you add the pudding, put the layers together like a sandwich and ice it.

You could also try ganache, fresh fruit, canned pie filling, or cream cheese blended with fruit.  There are so many options.  Just keep in mind the cake's texture; soft and creamy foods work best.  Whenever you do a filling remember to leave about a half inch border.  You could even pipe some of your icing around the edge of the first layer.  This keeps the filling from seeping out the sides when placing the top layer.

Before I know it I'll be making Ellie's first birthday cake!  Eek!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Why have dessert when you can have dirt?

We celebrated my father-in-law's birthday last weekend and I offered to make dessert.  I know cake is traditional on a birthday, but I just wasn't feeling it.  I wanted something comforting after the week we had, and what's more comforting than a family recipe?
This is my Grandma Taylor's recipe.  She always made it at Christmas and I could never get enough.  It feels like you're eating something light, but of course it's not.  Grandma Taylor never made anything low-fat. And frankly, I don't think low-fat and dessert belong in the same sentence.  If you're going to eat dessert, eat dessert. 

Dirt Dessert

1 large package Oreo chocolate cookies  
8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)
*1 cup sugar (Grandma usd powdered sugar)
2 (3.4-ounce) boxes vanilla instant pudding

4 cups milk
1 (8-ounce) carton whipped topping

Crush the cookies, I use my food processor.  Set aside.
Blend the cream cheese, butter, and sugar together until smooth. Set aside.
Prepare the vanilla pudding according to package directions. Fold the whipped topping into the pudding.
Fold the cream cheese mixture into the pudding mixture.

Sprinkle 1/3 of the cookies on the bottom of the bowl
Top with 1/2 of the pudding mixture
Another layer of cookies, then another layer of pudding.
Sprinkle remaining crushed cookies over the top.
Chill for several hours, preferably overnight.

I like to really drive home the dirt theme: add some gummy worms and maybe even stick a flower in the top.  You could even make individual cups, which would be great for a birthday party!

*I actually leave out this cup of sugar.  The combination of Oreos, pudding and whipped topping are sweet enough for my taste.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Note to my Ellie

Dear Ellie,                                                                          January 6, 2012
     Bear left us this morning to go to doggy Heaven.  He was an old dog and got sick very suddenly, it was his time to go.  We will miss him so much, but feel better knowing he is no longer suffering.  He is buried in the yard and we plan to plant some flowers and the tree we're growing as a marker.
     He was a good dog.  Aunt Sharlene and Uncle Jason got him when they were in college when he was about a year old.  He was a German Shepherd Husky mix, very beautiful.  Grandma always said he looked regal.  He most certainly held his head as if he was a king, and he would trot like he was big stuff when he went on a walk.  He had beautiful markings.  There were black streaks by his eyes, almost like a mask.  He was black and brown on his back, but his chest was white, super soft and fluffy!  He had one all white toenail on his front paw and a little white tuft of fur on his back just before his tail.  He had all the markings of a German Shepherd, but his fur was fluffy like a Husky.  He had a big head, shaped like a German Shepherd, with extra large ears, but a smaller, muscly body of a Husky.  It was an odd porportion, but it worked.  He was perfect.
     When he was about 8 years old he came to live with me.  He was starting to age, but you could never tell him that.  His black fur was starting to turn grey, but he still loved to chase anything that moved, go on long walks, get into the trash, sit on my lap, lick my face and hog the bed at night.  He was so loveable and cuddly, like a giant teddy bear.  He would lay in my lap, all 75 pounds of him, and I would hug him and bury my face in his fur.  He would wrap his neck around mine resting his chin on my shoulder, almost as if he was hugging me back.
    By the time we had you, he was finally showing his age.  He was 14, eating less and had dropped to 65 pounds.  He would still have random (short) spurts of energy when he would want to play fetch or tug o' war, but mostly he just slept.  The one thing that remained to the very end was his love of being outdoors, espeically in the snow.
     You absolutely loved Bear, and he approved of you.  It took you awhile to notice him, but recently he had become your favorite thing.  You would see Bear and literally squeal with delight.  You weren't exactly gentle with him, despite our best efforts, so Bear didn't usually stick around to play with you.
     Bear was always a pack dog.  True to his shepherd blood, he always wanted us to be in the same place.  If daddy was in one room and mommy was in another, Bear would pace back and forth between us.  Same with you.  When we brough you home, he gave you a good sniff and a little lick and you were part of the pack.  At night when I would put you to bed, Bear would wait outside your door, guarding it, while you slept.  He loved you, he just didn't want to play with you.
     As much as it drove me crazy, I will miss his fur everywhere.  As bad as they smelled, I will miss his sloppy, sticky kisses.  As huge and heavy as he was, I will miss him insisting on sitting in my lap.  As cold and frozen as I got, I will miss playing in the snow with him.  He was a good dog and even though he's gone, he'll be with us forever.


(An entry from Ellie's journal)

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Mexican Pizza

My family has been making a dish we Shalupa for, well, as long as I can remember. I have no idea why we call it Shalupa. No one does. It's basically Taco Salad. Recently, Nick and I turned it into a pizza and it was a complete success, so I decided I would share our success with others. Unfortunately, I do not have pictures because as I said, it was a success.'s all gone.

 Crust :
I made dough in my bread maker and used that for crust. However you could either buy a ready-made crust or pizza dough from the refrigerator section.

Taco Sauce, not too much, just a thin layer.

 *Ground beef or turkey, browned
Black Beans, drained and rinsed
Onion, chopped
Bell Pepper, chopped
Cheddar Cheese, shredded

(There are no measurements here because I feel like there are a lot of personal preferences with pizza toppings, proportions, etc.)

Bake at 400 degrees until you have reached your desired bubbling cheesy brownness. I personally like it pretty bubbly and golden brown. That means crispy. And I like crispy.  

Optional Garnish For After Baking:
Shredded Lettuce
Tomatoes, diced
Avocado, diced
Sour Cream

ENJOY! We certainly did! Next time I make it I'll try to post a picture before we devour it. No promises.

*We usually leave the ground meat off and just make it vegetarian. It's one less cooking step, which I like.