Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween Food

I have been having a heck of a time making any posts this week! And I'm sure with the amount of Halloween activities, most people aren't really keeping up with their blog-stalking either. Today I'm frantically trying to finish up Joe's costume, or he's going to go as Harry Potter and The Guy In Regular Jeans. If it weren't for Aleah and Missy, I couldn't have gotten this done. Aleah for helping me get the last things pinned together and Missy for loaning Mansfield Park to me so I don't die of utter boredom while I sew.

We have a few parties this week and I try to bring something both delicious and creative to them. Fortunately this month's cooking club theme was perfect for Halloween party food. We all made food that was Black & Orange. So check out this cool page of recipes! I'm making the Creamy Pumpkin Dip for a party tonight. And I'm sure Joe isn't going to say no to another batch of Black & Orange pasta... he loved that stuff!

is another great source for holiday recipes and ideas. This is my go-to site for most occasions.

Do you have a special treat you make every year, or something you're excited about making now? If so, let me know! And now... off for more sewing.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Trick or Treat candy

So I've read a few blogs this week on The Great Candy Dilemma. It seems that most moms seem like giving their kids 22 pounds of chocolate, frosting and pure, unadulterated sugar is a bad idea. Looking around, there seemed to be a variety of solutions - ranging from Good Idea to Kind Of Stupid.

1. Throw it away. Personally I think this is kind of dumb. Unless the candy is something gross, like Dots or those Boston Bean things.

2. Hide it (this was my parent's method - as if we didn't know that the giant yellow duffel bag didn't contain all the good candy that my dad was hiding for himself)

3. Give it away.

4. The Switch Witch. Although you still have to do something with the candy and now you have to buy toys on top of it. I don't know...

5. The best idea for me comes from my friend Jessica (at least I THINK it came from her - it's the kind of thing her clever brain would come up with. If the idea is the intellectual property of some other smarty-Mom, she'd better tell me so that Jessica can quit stealing her thunder). Anyway, she lets her girls pick out their favorite candies - enough for a few days of post-Halloween snacks and rewards - then puts the rest in coffee-can size containers and nestles it in with the rest of her food storage. Genius! When we're living on old rice and re-hydrated beans, she's going to be indulging in a Reeses cup. Or trading it for a week's supply of Cream of Wheat.

What do YOU do with the Halloween candy? And if you're not too scared to admit that you just let your kids eat it, by all means let me know! I withdrew my application for Mom of the Year earlier this spring.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Grocery Bag Ghost

If it seems like I spent the bulk of my time last week taking pictures... it would be true! However, here is a fun craft project that I did with my kids last night. With a few simple materials, you get a Halloween decoration that is kid-friendly to make, water/weather-proof and, best of all, free!

You will need:
- Old newspaper (or the 257 ads that came in your mailbox toady)
- Leftover grocery bags
- String
- Black permanent marker
- Scissors
- Small goblins who can "help" you (read: hinder your every move but love participating in the activity anyway)

Spread out the grocery bag and cut away any store logo . Cut off the handles.

Have your goblins choose a newspaper page and crumple it into a ball along with the logo and handles of the cut-up bag. Wrap another bag around the newspaper ball so that mostly white is showing (this is to keep the face of the ghost white. Alternately you could fill the head with something else, like paper towels, but it's up to you).

Put the newspaper/bag ball into the center of the cut-up plastic bag and wrap it up. Hold the neck of the ghost while your older goblin ties it with string to secure it. This should take several hours.

Leave the ends of the strings long so you can tie the ghosts in your tree. Let your younger goblins dictate the faces of the ghosts (happy, sad, Vampire, spooky, scary, masked-Mexican-wrestler... ) and draw them on with black permanent marker.

Since the heads of the ghost weigh more than the bottoms, it helps to stick them in a small fork in the tree to hold them upright. If you just hang the ghost from the string, you will have upside-down ghosts haunting your tree. Use the long strings to secure their position in the branches.

Happy Haunting!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fuentes family

Last week I got to do portraits for this awesome family. Anthony and Christel have three of the most beautiful children. Let's just say that I don't envy either parent when these three are teenagers.

This little guy... I just can't get over him! He has this adorable smooth-guy smile and these bright blue eyes. What a charmer.

And let's not forget the totally gorgeous parents.

These guys will totally be appearing on the website slideshow... which is totally way down on my To Do List for right now. ;)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Norwood family pictures

This is my friend Kelsey and her adorable family. We found this fun little park that might be a little too close to the freeway (wow, it was loud!) but has some great architectural elements that made for some fab pictures.

Their son Joel was... let's call him "enthusiastic". He cleverly eluded every trick, ploy or game I could come up with. Poor Kelsey and Boyd were so tired after one hour but he never got bored of escaping every picture.

I got some good ones, in spite of his monkey-tricks.

We fooled him into this picture by trying to take ones of just his parents. Haha Joel, we're still too smart for you...

Thanks you guys, I had a great time, even if you did need to go home and take a nap. :)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Our own pictures

I think most photographers don't do a lot of pictures for their own families. I know I struggle with my two kids. Today I took them both out on the 4-wheeler and saw a location that was just perfect. I had to give it a try.

Just a few minutes into this project, I remembered why I don't do their pictures often. They don't listen to me! Threats like "Bart, if you don't smile, you'll get locked into your room until you grow facial hair!" don't really faze him. And Lisa does this thing where she looks anywhere but the camera. Plus, no one can give you fits of the giggles quite like a sibling, especially when you're trying to be serious.

However, in spite of an entire reel of these: do finally get one of these.

Thank heavens for digital photography. Also, click on the collage to view it large - some of our outtakes are real winners.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Christmas shopping

Laurie over at Tip Junkie had a great idea for holiday shopping this season - buy from other moms! She's hosting the Tip Junkie Mom-prenuer Shop-a-thon, with lots of discounts, giveaways and great products created from other mommy-bloggers just like you... and me!

So head on over there and see if there's anything on your wish list. Or, if you're like me, you'll just make your wish list a little longer. Maybe you should send your husband over instead...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Spencer family pictures

As far as fun photo shoots go, this one ranks pretty high. Awesome location, cooperative kids, not too awfully cold (if you can't see your breath, it's not too cold) and basically the coolest family around. Seriously, what could be better?

Plus they're all so stinking good-looking. Check out these two stunners.

Those good looks had to come from somewhere. Mom and Dad are just adorable too!

We got some great pictures that are totally not "same old same old". I'm really happy with all of them (sorry there are so many). Thanks you guys!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Delicious rolls

Out of This World Rolls
This is a family recipe that I got from my mother-in-law and she got from hers. If I find out the recipe is a family secret, I'll have to take it off the blog so copy it down quick! ;) You need a pretty heavy-duty mixer to make these. I use a KitchenAid and my mother-in-law actually makes them in her Cuisinart food processor with the chopping blade. If you have a light-duty mixer it might overload the motor before the dough is mixed enough. Just mix it until the dough starts to form and then add the rest of the flour and knead by hand.

2 pkg yeast (4 1/2 tsp.)
2 cups warm water, divided
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cups butter
2 eggs
1 tbsp salt
4 1/2 cups flour

Dissolve yeast in 1 cup warm water and 1 tbsp sugar. Set aside.
Cream butter, 1/2 cup sugar
Mix eggs with creamed butter/sugar
Add 1 cup of very hot water, blend
Add yeast mixture (yeast should have bloomed and made the water all foamy and thick)
Add 2 cups of flour. Mix until well combined. The mixture should look smooth and slightly elastic.
Add approximately 2 1/2 cups more flour to make a dough. The dough should just barely not stick to your dry fingers if you poke at it. If you knead it, your hands will have to be dry and well-floured.

Turn dough into a greased bowl, spray the top with cooking spray and cover with a towel. Let rise for 10-20 minutes, until double in size. Divide the dough in half. Turn out onto a floured surface, roll into a 14-16" circle. Spread softened butter across the surface (about 2 tbsp) and cut into 12 sections (like a pizza). Roll from the outside inward to form a crescent roll shape. Arrange onto a large baking sheet. Repeat with the other half of the dough. This recipe should completely fill a large cookie sheet with rolls.

Cover rolls with a clean kitchen towel and let rise for another 20 minutes, they should get big and puffy. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes until very brown on top and they sound hollow when you tap them. Immediately take a stick of butter and melt some down each hot roll. Serve warm.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Witch costume help

So Minnie has a witch costume that she wants to wear trick-or-treating. I want to get something warm to wear under it. I have some adult-size pink and black stripe tights that I want to put on over the warm underclothes.

I was thinking of sewing the tight material over the legs and sleeves so she had stripey arms and legs. So does anyone know of a place that sells something like, a warm close-fitting body suit or set of thermals? I think thermals would be the best. And if you can't turn to the blog-o-sphere for help with these kinds of questions, what would you do? So. Where oh where would I buy something like this?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

New photo process

I'm working on a new process for some of my pictures - the weathered, beaten look. What do you think?

Here's the before...

And the after...

Amy N. shared some more of her extensive Photoshop skills for this one... what would I do without her!?

I got some great pictures of this gorgeous family and I'll share some more tomorrow. :)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Last of the Christmas Cards

I've added the last few designs I've been working on. Whew! I even finished before Halloween, which was a major goal I've set for myself. Can I tell you how much I love this little bird?

And this design, while not your typical Christmas colors, is one of my new favorites. It's so girly!
I'm really looking forward to doing cards again this year - I have a great time designing and totally get into the work. Plus I got everything out on time! To celebrate, I'm going to do an Early Bird Christmas Card Sale! Order before Monday, November 13th and get 20% off your order. Also I'm going to do a giveaway for a set of cards in a few weeks... so check back!

Monday, October 6, 2008


I don't know if I'll be making any posts next week. It depends on if we have internet service at our hotel. We are taking the kids to Disneyland and, can I tell you, I am SO excited! Last year we were there for Christmas and it was spectacular. This year there are a lot of Halloween things going on that will be really fun. I might even be more excited than the kids - and that is saying a lot!

We are flying to California today and, even though my kids are good travelers, I still have Child On A Plane Stress. I am really scared to be the parent of a whining/fighting/shrieking/kicking/hysterical child that causes other adults to shoot me filthy looks and pass judgment on my parenting skills. In preparation, I have purchased a variety of entertaining toys - like animal-shaped crayons for Bart, new glittery markers for Lisa and some cool coloring books. I'll also be bringing 2.8 million Matchbox cars, enough fruit snacks to feed a third-world country and my iPod, so I hope we've got the entertainment bases covered.

I promise to miss you and return at the end of next week.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Homemade Applesauce

Well, the peaches may have been slow this year but our apples were right on time. This is the first time I've ever had an apple tree and, unlike the pears and apricots in the neighbors yard, this one actually belongs to us. Our tree has Jonathan apples which are perfect for me. They are sweet, tart and very crisp. I wanted to think of something to use up a lot of them (I hate feeling like the produce goes to waste) and Jenny suggested applesauce. My kids love applesauce and I figured that homemade would be more delicious and have less corn-syrup and preservatives than the store-bought variety.

For this project, an apple peeler/corer will be your best friend. I could not believe how simple this was! Plus, with proper supervision, this is a great way to let your kids help. Minnie loved turning the handle and watching the peeler work.

Drop the finished apples into a bowl of water with about 1/4 cup lemon juice stirred in (just to keep it all from turning brown before you're ready to cook it. Most recipes recommend a mix of different apples (sweet and tart). Because our neighbor's tree had an overload of pears, I "borrowed" some for the sauce instead. I figure I used a 3:1 ratio of apples to pears. The pears added a different layer of flavor and since they were sweeter, I used less sugar.

Put an inch or two of water in the bottom of a big pot (just to keep things from burning) and bring the fruit and water up to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, add a few teaspoons of cinnamon and let it all simmer for a while, until the fruit is cooked down and mushy. Use a stick blender to mix it all up. If you don't have a stick blender, think of 25 reasons why you need one and pester your husband mercilessly until he tells you to go out and get one. Alternately, use the regular blender to puree batches of the hot applesauce. When it burns you, make your husband go out and buy a stick blender.

At this point you'll add some sugar. Depending on the sweetness of your fruit and your own personal taste you'll add anywhere from 1/2 to a few cups. Add it slowly and taste to see what you like. You might also want some more cinnamon or maybe even some pumpkin pie spice! It's your applesauce, make it taste however you want to. If the sauce is too watery let it simmer some more so it cooks down.

Here's the part where I turned slightly crazy. When I made my test batch, I put a few drops of red food coloring in, just for fun. The kids liked the pink applesauce and ate an entire bottle with dinner. When I was getting ready to pour this batch into bottles, I let Minnie talk me into coloring each bottle a different color.

About 2 drops of food-coloring worked for each pint jar. And just so you can learn from my experience:

Pink: pleasant to look at and appetizing
Yellow: looks fine
Green: a little weird but still OK - kids like it
Blue: getting a little iffy...
Purple: just don't try it. Food doesn't accept purple dye well. Joe tried to dye Rice Krispie Treats purple once and they turned the same shade of Deathly Zombie Gray that we got today.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Peach-Raspberry jam

I have not tried out this recipe yet but I have it on good authority (thanks Missy!) that it's excellent. A co-worker of Joe's gave us a big box of peaches and I've been saving our raspberries in the freezer. This is what I have planned for today.

Peach Raspberry Jam...
7 cups blended peaches
2 packages frozen raspberries thawed and blended (3 1/2 cups)
10 cups sugar
2 small packages raspberry Jell-O

Peel and slice peaches, tossing them in lemon juice or Fruit Fresh to keep them from browning. Blend in a food processor or with a potato masher. Combine first three ingredients in a thick-bottomed pot. Cook on low stirring often. Bring to a boil and cook for 20 minutes.

Skim foam. Remove from heat. Add Jell-O and stir until dissolved. Ladle into jam jars (a jar funnel will keep the jar mouth clean). Fit on clean, hot lids and rings. Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes to preserve. Let sit in a draft-free place without bumping them until cool (about 12 hours). Check to make sure all lids are sealed down tight. Store in a cool dry place for up to 18 months.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Have I mentioned that I love fall?

I think October is my favorite month - so much The Favorite that it gets its own blog re-design. In celebration, I'm going to continue to post more great peach recipes.

If I can keep the kids from eating all the peaches on the way home from the orchard, I have lots of bottling/preserving possibilities. Last year I discovered this website that has recipes for just about any delicious thing you could ever want to can, bottle, tin or make ice cream from. On that site I saw this easy slow-cooker recipe for peach butter. Everyone always talks about apple butter, which is good, but peaches are nearer and dearer to my heart. So I had to make some. Here's how (it's easy!)

Wash, peel and slice your ripe peaches. Cooking won't ripen fruit so if they're green and under-ripe now, the peach butter will taste under-ripe. About 15 peaches fit in my crock pot, and I have the big oval 5 qt. one. Oh, and this makes your slow-cooker bowl super-duper sticky so if you don't have the kind with the removable, dishwasher-safe bowl, break yours, blame it on the kids (or dog or cat) and get a new one.

New crock-pot acquired, chop the peaches up (thin slices or cubes). The smaller your pieces, the more will fit in the pot. They don't have to be even OR pretty so this is a task that Husband can help with. Add 3-4 cups of sugar (depending on how sweet you want it) and about 2 tsp. of cinnamon, 1 tsp cloves, 1/2 tps allspice and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Set your slow-cooker to low, set the lid on but leave a space to vent and let it go for about 6-12 hours. My batch went from 6pm to about 8 the next morning and was perfect.

You can stir the pot if you want, and I actually mashed the peaches up a bit during the cooking process, just to have something to do. Remember that your lid shouldn't sit on tightly, or there won't be anywhere for the steam to escape and you want this to reduce. The nice thing about the slow cooker is that the heat is so low that you would have to forget about the butter for a week or so to burn it. An extra perk is that your house smells divine the whole time this is cooking. I think heaven must smell like peaches and baking bread.

Once it's all cooked down to about 2/3 or 1/2 of the original volume, blend it up. A stick blender is the best but if you have to, put it in your regular blender or food processor. You want the consistency to be nice and smooth. It gets thicker as it's all blended as well.

Fruit butters are really forgiving. Say that you made this, let it cool and it just wasn't as thick as you wanted? Just pour it all back in the crock pot, heat it up and cook it for longer. If you've made it too thick, pour in some fruit juice to thin it back out. To test it, I scooped up a few tablespoons in a cup and let it cool. It looked fine but I wanted to check the "spreadability" so I slathered it on some toast and ate it. Delicious.

Pour your peach butter into pint or half-pint jars and water-bath it the same way you would jams or jellies. Then it will store on the shelf for your all-winter enjoyment. I made this last year and I got enough to give out to family, as Christmas gifts to the neighbors, to bribe people to be my friends and still have plenty leftover for me. My favorite way to eat it was on crepes with cinnamon sugar and whipped cream. Excuse me while I wipe drool from the keyboard...

Happy harvest, etc.