Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Visit With Santa

Last night, we took our boys to see the light show at Rocky Gap Park, and guess who was there? At first, it didn't look like either of our little guys was going to give Santa the time of day, but eventually, Jonathan warmed up to him and sat with him a minute, and the best we can say about Matthew is he didn't turn himself inside-out with hysterics.

The light show was nice, too - the boys liked it, and it was a great change of pace amidst all the holiday running-around. We had a great dinner at the Baltimore Street Grill, where Mark and I sampled the St. Nikolaus Bock - a seasonal beer from the Penn Brewery in Pittsburgh. Then we piled in the car and went to the show - a nice, relaxing evening!

But I think our relaxation is about to come to an end, starting tomorrow morning. So there may not be many blog entries for a week or so! Christmas Day we're packing up the kids and heading down to my parents house for a few days. Check back, soon, though - I'll try to post some pictures soon. Merry Christmas everyone!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Girl Moment....with My HUSBAND?

So, you gotta love the holidays with all the holiday baking. Last night, I made peanut butter balls - OR, call them what they REALLY are: Homemade Reeses's Cups with Dark Chocolate Coating! Yum. No, I have no pictures, you'll just have to trust me on this one. They were fairly easy to make, but as it got later and later and I got "tireder" and "tireder", I begged Mark to stay with me in the kitchen, keep my company, and hey, wash a dish or two!
By this time, I was putting toothpicks in each ball so I could dunk them in the chocolate, and Mark was hovering, so I gave him a job: help me. So we dipped. We chatted. We splattered chocolate all over the countertops. Some of the balls fell off the toothpicks and into the chocolate, and we laughed. And, when every last ball had been dunked, we looked into the pot, and saw there was a substantial amount of chocolate still left. So Mark says "What do we do with the leftovers?" Men. Tell me, girls out there, would you be asking that question? So I decided to take the time to educate. I reached for the pretzel barrel and dipped. Hmmmmm. Something about that chocolate/salt combination I just don't like. I made a face, dashed over to the snack cabinet and resurrected a bag of mini-marshmallows. Better. Glance of pity at my poor hubby trying to dunk one at a time, while I load up four or five at a time on a toothpick that was leftover. But then, much to my amazement, Mark wanders over to the snack cabinet and returns with --- Matthew and Jonathan's car-shaped animal crackers. Bingo. Wow - MMMMM - now THAT was good!
So, to my children - we apologize since you woke up to no animal crackers today. Yes, Mommy and Daddy know there were some last night when you went to bed. They're gone. We'll get you more.
And to my husband - thank you for sharing that girl moment with me. You may not have known it at the time, but don't all modern romance novels have a couple of lovelorn chicks and a pot of melted chocolate in them somewhere? It was nice moment - that chocolate was good - physically AND emotionally! After all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season - we needed that. Oh, and thanks for the help cleaning up, too!

Friday, December 21, 2007

In Search of: The Perfect Pizzelle

Pizzelle - you know them, you love them...boy are there a lot of recipes out there for them. I like them very light, very, very crisp, and lightly flavored. I like to bite into one and have the rest of it practically crumble in your hand. Mine? Not quite that fragile - but pretty good. My cousin Tommy makes wonderful pizzelle - he brings them every year to the annual Christmas party - the Italian side of the family. We haven't been there for Christmas for years, now - with the kids, it's gotten too hectic so we don't see a lot of them anymore, and I miss eating his pizzelles. So I searched around for a recipe, and finally decided to use the one in my Italian cookbook, which has never, ever steered me wrong.
The only problem here? For some reason, they don't spread completely across the pizzelle maker (sort of like a waffle iron, but different) so that when they're done, they're not perfectly round and it looks like little mice have been nibbling at the edges. But I guess it can be overlooked - I don't know if it's me, the maker, or not using enough batter. But if I use more batter, it runs out one side, so I still have imperfect circles, with mouse nibbles on one side and huge globs of excess on the other!
Anyway, if you have a pizzelle maker - give them a try - nice thing is they're very easy to make - no softening of butter, no lighting of oven, one bowl.....very simple.
2 C. flour (I sifted it, makes it lighter, improves overall texture)
1 C. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 sticks butter, melted and cooled
1 Tbsp. anise extract (I used about 3/4 tbsp. anise, then topped it off with vanilla extract - I'm not sure I like the real strong anise flavor....)
4 eggs, slightly beaten
Mix together the flour, sugar and baking soda, then mix in the eggs, butter and extracts. Stir, then use a wire whisk until smooth. Drop by level tablespoonful onto pizzelle iron. Follow manufacturer's directions, or wait 45 seconds t0 2 minutes, depending on the iron. Carefully lift out and cool on cookie racks - they harden quickly. Dust with powdered sugar.
What's on today's agenda? Peanut butter balls. And probably the old standby - Macadamia Nut Brittle. Plus, a pot of meat sauce for ravioli on Christmas Eve, and some research to figure out a good Christmas morning brunch that everyone will eat! 4 more days!

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Winter Concert

Sunday evening was our regional choir's Christmas concert - we'd been rehearsing since early October! Well, as they say, the weather outside was frightful....overnight Saturday into Sunday we had an ice storm, and 40-50 mph winds were predicted for later Sunday afternoon. Well, I'm sure you all know that ice on trees and wires and strong gusty winds are a deadly combination....and we got extremely lucky. For a few brief hours on Sunday afternoon, the sun came out and the temp climbed to almost 40, and all the ice came crashing off the trees and powerlines, and THEN the winds started. And by the time of the concert, the roads were clear, although it had started snowing again.
It was nice - and now I'm definitely in the Christmas spirit! The concert went well, the audience loved it and the snow and Christmas lights made it particularly beautiful! Now all I have to do is wrap, clean, buy, bake, mail, shop, cook, iron......8 more days......

Friday, December 14, 2007

Questions of the Universe

I was awakened this morning by a small own, of course....climbing into bed beside me. After elbowing me a few times in the ribs and kicking me in an attempt to get under the covers, he finally settled, I hoped long enough for me to get one more catnap before having to get up for good. I was not to be so lucky. "Mommy, look at the sunrise." I'm like, "HUH?" He repeats - "Mommy, look at the pretty sunrise." So I peel open my eyeballs, and, wow, sure enough, out the big window is a really, pretty sunrise - all orange and purplish. But then he says "Mommy, where does the dark go in the morning?" Ummmmmm. Let's see, first, where's my coffee? "Mommy, where does it go?" "Where does WHAT go?" "The dark."

The conversation just got worse from there - mainly because by this time, I'm partially coherent and was trying to make this one of those mother-son bonding moments where I explain the mysteries of the universe. Unfortunately, I think I got a little to technical for his not-quite-4 year old mind. Something about light only hitting half a sphere at once, and since the Earth is a sphere.....I think I confused myself. What I MEANT to say, Jonathan, is that the sun woke up. And when the sun gets out of bed, it chases away the dark, and the dark stays away until the sun goes to bed again at nighttime. Sorry, buddy. Hit me up after my first coffee next time, okay?

And while I'm on the subject of "what wakes me up in the morning", I just have this to add. Have you ever opened your eyes in the morning and the first thing you see see is a dog's nose about one inch away from your face? Happens waaayyyy too often around here - what is it? Is she obsessed with morning breath? Am I about to get licked? It's bad enough Bella (the dog) spends half the night somewhere between my pillow and Mark's - I mean, how much bed can a 12 pound dog occupy? Hey, at least she doesn't elbow me and put her knee into my bladder....I guess I'll take that little black nose in my face after all!

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Okay, so if you read my last entry, you probably know what this blob is....a lump of dough in a bowl. And two hours later in a nice warm place, I got THIS:

It raised! Thank you, little yeasties. I punched it down, gave it a few kneads, and shaped it into little balls, then put it back in that warm spot for 45 more minutes, then baked for 20 minutes and VOILA!

Hot, fluffy, really, really good rolls - and if you've ever had the Golden Corral ones, these tasted very much like them, except I didn't brush the tops with butter - I figured we'd put enough of that on as we ate them! Not that they needed it - they were good plain. And Jonathan? Let's just say he got his pound of...dough. Mark and I have discovered a new name for him. We now refer to him as the world's only "carbivore". If it weren't for various forms of dough and carbs, he'd have to be fed with an IV. So Jonathan, anytime you want Mommy to make something, you just say the word....I'll be glad to fix you whatever you want, as long as you EAT it! Here's a link to the recipe I used, it's a little time-consuming, but not if you use a mixer with a dough hook like I did. Have fun!

Rolls? For Dinner? Tonight?

So I'm straightening up the kitchen a bit, when my 3 year old approaches me and says "Mommy, can you make rolls for dinner?" Rolls? You mean the homemade kind? Oh my. Sure, kid, there's 12 excrutiatingly LONG days until Christmas, and I've got absolutely NOTHING to do but sit here and count raindrops, so sure, let me spend half a day in the kitchen making you rolls. Of course, I didn't say that. What I said was something like: "Of course, baby, would you like to help Mommy make them?" I mean, c'mon, my kid (the one that never eats) asks for rolls, and I can't exactly pop open a can of Pillsbury Crescents. Although I have been known to do this a time or two! Okay, rolls, rolls. I guess I could get out the Bisquick - but didn't they have pancakes for breakfast? Oh well, in for a penny, in for pound. I'll let you know how the "Golden Corral Yeast Roll Copycats" turn out.....tune in later.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

My New Favorite Vegetable

I never in the world thought I would be saying this, but these things are awesome. Sweet Potato Fries! Truthfully, I never really liked sweet potatoes, or at least not those mushy concoctions usually served in the Fall, around the holidays. But this year at our Thanksgiving Dinner at my SIL Donna's house, she made these yummy fries, and gave me the recipe. Now I usually make my own regular fries in the oven, so this wasn't too much of a stretch, and they're so easy, and you can do it a little differently every time. I would think that even kids would eat these - not MY kids, but you know, normal children... ;-)
Anyway, oven to 450, then take a sweet potato or two if they're small. Scrub them down, cut out the yuckies, and use a nice sharp knife to cut them into fry-sized strips. Then, toss them with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, and at this point, you can add whatever seasonings you want. I used a little garlic pepper salt, some cumin, and some celery salt. I think my sister-in-law used cumin and fresh thyme, which I was out of. You could also use just coarse salt and pepper. Turn them out in one layer on a greased shallow pan, or I just used my seasoned stoneware (love that thing!). Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes - check with a fork. No need to even flip them over. When you're ready to serve, you can adjust seasonings again, if necessary. Easy, easy and easy - and really tasty, AND, heaven forbid: HEALTHY!
On another note, I have to comment on the kids and all their toys. By the end of the day around here, it looks like this place has been ransacked. I'm not sure how it gets that way, but somehow, our main living area, the living room, is becoming a repository for every toy in the house. I try to designate "toy" areas, and have even started storing a lot of their toys either downstairs in our playroom, or in their bedrooms. If they want to bring them out during the day, fine, but they go back before bedtime. It seems now that as soon as the kids hit their beds at night, Mark and I are obssessed with picking up the toys, and removing all evidence of the short little people that live with us, so we can relax for the rest of the evening, and, more logistically, not have to worry about falling over something in the middle of the night and breaking our necks. And so it is with just a small feeling of guilt, that I say - why is it that my first glance at a completely "picked up" living room makes me feel so GREAT? Makes me want to snuggle down in my couch with a great book, and these days, by the lights of our newly decorated Christmas tree, and just relish the fact that, for the next 12 hours or so, our house is quiet, orderly, and kid-free. On that happy note, I'm off to the couch with my book - at least for a few minutes when I have to face reality again (the load of dirty pots in the sink, the mounting stack of Christmas cards, the unwrapped presents...). But for now, 15 minutes of peace.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Insanity Continues

Okay, it's about that time where I start to add up all the gifts I have bought, checking my lists, making sure I have everything and everybody. The other night, I was going over my list for Matthew and I recalled that way back in October (seems like light years ago) I bought him a set of Playskool (is that how you spell it?) trucks and hid them somewhere. And I went looking for them in my mess of a house. And I can't FIND THEM. I have looked everywhere - in the most usual spots, in unusual spots, even in spots I couldn't imagine myself hiding something in, and they're just not here! Well, they are here somewhere, but there's only so many square feet to a house, you know? WHERE ARE THEY? I think I'm going crazy! At this rate, I'm beginning to wonder if I ever brought them home from the store - you know, maybe the bag got left on the carousel....but I have a very dim recollection of seeing them HERE, but after that, my brain must've shut down because I am so clueless about this. Please, someone tell me this is normal.

And to my other son, Jonathan, I have some words for you today. If the tips of your crayons break off because you're pressing too hard, scotch tape won't repair them. You have to be more careful. Crayons break - that's life. You either toss them, or peel down the paper (the horror!) and resharpen it. I'm sorry, baby, this is life.
If your brother gets into your stuff, you MUST be more patient. You must learn to share. You must learn to be nice. You must learn the difference between playful wrestling, and knocking your little brother to the floor in order to recover a toy. One of those actions will get you a timeout, the other will get you a giggle from your brother. You decide which one you want.
And waking up in the middle of the night is fine, but once I put you back to bed, you have to stay there. Finding 16 excuses to get out of bed at 3am is not funny, and Mommy will not be happy with you. Bad dreams, having to go pee-pee, getting scared of the big, bad furnace that unfortunately sits in the basement right under your bedroom and makes loud noises....all these are good excuses to need reassurance from Mommy and Daddy at 3 am. Wanting a certain toy in the middle of the night? Wanting a story at 3 in the morning? No and no. You should know this by now.
Yeah, Monday wasn't the greatest day on record. Had to happen on a Monday, right? We're going for a MUCH happier Tuesday!

Monday, December 10, 2007

On Scones and Sickees

Whew - what a weekend. First, Mark came home at lunchtime on Friday, sick. Add him to the already feverish Jonathan, and the newly feverish Matthew, and I had the makings of a WONDERFUL weekend. So in a nutshell, the weekend consisted of me leaving Mark with the kids while I ran here and there, doing a little grocery shopping, a little Christmas shopping, a little baking and a bit of decorating....I actually got a lot done, and everyone seems to be much better this Monday morning. Let's hope we stay that way.

I did manage to make some scones this weekend - Jonathan loves to help me bake, so we made these, and some cookies which I let him decorate. The recipe for the scones is probably the best, and easiest I have ever run across. My good friend gave me this recipe this past summer, and I've made them a few times since, but don't make them often, because low-fat they are NOT. But oh, so easy, and OH SO TASTY!
Here goes:
2 C. all-purpose flour
1/4 C. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tb. baking powder
1 C. add-ins, i.e., dried fruit/chips - all cut to raisin size or less
1 1/4 C. heavy cream (yeah, there's the "fat" problem!)
Oven to 425. Greased baking sheet, or I use seasoned stoneware. Combine the dry ingredients and mix well with a fork. Add the "add-ins" (more on this below), then add the cream and stir until dough comes together. Turn onto floured surface and kneed 8-10 times. Pat dough into 10 circle, cut into 12 wedges. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with coarse sugar, if desired.
15-20 minutes or until golden. YUM.
Add-ins can vary. I used mini chocolate chips and dried cranberries in this round. You could also do the chips and dried cherries. Or cinnamon chips and raisins. Or something with apricots. Doesn't matter, just use a full cup. One other note about this recipe - if you don't feel like kneeding and cutting, you can just drop them - not as pretty, but much faster! Mmmm - I'm eating one right now with a cup of coffee.....makes you want to run to Starbuck's doesn't it?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Some Thoughts About Ebay

You know it, you love it - the original worldwide online buy/sell venue. A genius idea, if you ask me, IF you're willing to trust the integrity of....well, normal, everyday people who you don't know, never met, never spoke to and can't see. Somehow, it all works - most of the time. I'm sure Ebay has seen it's share of crooks over the years, and I'm sure many people have lost some money. But that's not what this is about.
I've had an Ebay account for several years, and in those several years have conducted almost 100 or so transactions, some buying, but mostly selling. It's sporadic for me, I'll list half a dozen items - stuff I had laying around the house or saw cheap at a yard sale - sell it all, then wait a few months, do it all again. For me, it's mostly "clean out the clutter, make a few extra bucks on the side". No big deal. So about 6 months ago, I listed an item, got bids, got more bids, auction ended, buyer paid through paypal at around 6am the following morning, according to the time stamp on the transaction. I packed up the item, and trundled myself and my boys off to the post office at around 2pm that same afternoon. Here's where things get tricky. I offer all my buyers a choice of shipping - most of them choose priority mail, which is really fast. But others, who aren't perhaps interested in getting their items lightning fast, can choose a slower shipping. Which is what this guy did. Now whether he KNEW he was choosing the slower shipping (which, in all fairness, CAN BE a lot cheaper) I don't know. But at any rate, he had to have made the choice, it's a drop+pick box on the payment transaction page. So off it went to Texas, from Maryland, using Parcel Post - which the post office guarantees like 3-10 day delivery. Fine.
About a week later, I get a snarky email from him. He hasn't received his item yet. Where is it? I email back, avoiding a snarky reply, because I've learned that to not take the defensive is sometimes the best approach. Told him I mailed it the same day he paid, told him it's on the way, told him Parcel Post takes longer. Told him to email me if it didn't show up soon. Two days later, he emails again. Now he's mad. Where's the item? Accuses me of not mailing it promptly. Threatens to report me to Ebay. Calls me all kinds of names. I kindly (and I do mean kindly) email him back again, explaining that I mailed his item on the day he paid, and when he gets it, he can check the postmark if he has any doubt. At this point, I'm mad too, but at who, I'm not even sure. All I know is that I did what I was supposed to do! So from then on, it's a daily barrage of crap in my inbox. Totally abusive guy - just wouldn't let up. You would think he was waiting for a kidney.
So FINALLY, after about 13 days he gets his item. Doesn't email me this time. Just leaves me feedback on the Ebay feedback forum telling the world that I am a lousy shipper. Oh, and by the way, this is AFTER I had already left him glowing feedback about how quickly he paid.
So this time, I emailed him. And I was STILL nice. Told him I was really appalled at how he could tell everyone on Ebay that I was a lousy, slow shipper, when he knew the truth - since by now, he had the package, he had to have looked at the postmark. I told him it was really crappy of him to do something like that - it was just low.
And what do I get back? Another abusive email, telling me how delusional I am, and it's not his fault it took 13 days to get his package, etc.... So this time, I let him have it, both barrels. I won't say what I wrote, but let's just say I got my pound of flesh. Including telling him that he would INDEED get reported to Ebay (and he did) because I happened to have a little receipt from the post office laying around, with a DATE on it. Then I blocked him from my inbox, blocked him from ever buying anything from me on Ebay again, and blocked him from my life - at least the physical part of it. Emotionally, this creep still makes my skin crawl.
So Ebay, sorry to say, there are freaks in the world. They're arrogant, self-centered, abusive and nasty. They can't admit they're wrong. I still wheel and deal on Ebay. I'm not going to let one jerk ruin it for everyone. I honestly believe that people can conduct business, sight unseen. But every once in awhile, you run up against someone who really makes you question the goodness in people's hearts....I mean, what is WITH some people?

Oh, and that item I sold him? Lest you think it was something important, something very expensive, or something with any kind of sentiment or emotion, or perhaps even something that he needed for a The item, or in this case items, that I sold him, was an assortment balls. Way to go, Freak. Get yourself all worked up, get me upset, lie, misconstrue, LIBEL, and be an overall jerk, all for something you could've gone and bought yourself in 5 minutes at Walmart.

Anybody who sells on Ebay and wants to block this guy from buying from them, just let me know, I'll be happy to supply you with his Ebay identity.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Filth and Football

Okay, at risk of boring you all completely, I've got to do it. I've got to comment on Monday Night Football last night, if only because I love the Baltimore Ravens too much to not comment! Up against the heavily favored Patriots, on Baltimore turf, and facing a 5 game losing streak, the Ravens poured their heart and soul into the game, and unfortunately came up just shy. Too bad. I'm not enough of an analyst to go into the why's and wherefore's, but to me, it was a great game, and to watch as the Ravens put up more offense than we've seen, literally, in YEARS, was heartening. Sure, I'm disappointed the Ravens are having such a crappy season, but at least they weren't embarrassed like they were in the Pittsburgh MNF game, and in the game against San Diego last weekend! You gotta hand it those guys - Tom Brady has his worst game of the season, and our offense had it's best - take that last minute away, and you have something wonderful!
So, in other news, yesterday, I happened to glance at the floor underneath of Matthew's high chair, and the light from the window was catching just see the grossest mess! Now, granted, Matthew does have this rotten habit of tossing his food - and I mean everything - applesauce, mac and cheese, cereal, whatever. Even if he likes it and is eating it, he still can't resist tossing some of it on the floor, much to the dog's delight. And herein lies the problem. The animal actually does a fairly good job of keeping the floor "clean", but her antics just encourage Matthew to toss more - what can I say, he likes to feed her! But, she's not a mop, so the floor just accumulates messes - and yesterday I actually glanced over and literally saw a dog's paw print on the floor, and not because it was muddy. A paw print in the residue of food. Foul. I do actually mop, about twice a week. And I sweep at least twice a day. I just can't KEEP UP! Now before you think I live in squalor, let me assure you, there's not like, little chunks of food stuck on my floor - far from it. And that paw print is now...history. I guess I just get discouraged when I clean, and clean, and clean, and mop and mop and as soon as we have one meal, the floor looks like a herd of elephants went through. What gives?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Thanksgiving in San Diego

So anyway - Yeah, Thanksgiving in SoCal. Turkey Day was nice - we went to my SIL's house for the big feed - and I got an awesome new recipe for sweet potato fries - which I will post soon. Then we went to the beach! Okay, not exactly in swimsuits and towels, but still, it was a warm evening, and I've never been to the beach on Thanksgiving Day before. Matthew loved it, perhaps a little TOO much, as you can tell from the pictures - he spotted trouble and took off right towards it at a full sprint. Mark had just enough time to take the picture, secure the camera and go dashing after him!
So we stayed out there just under a week. The highlight of the trip was listening to Mark's niece, Chloe play music at the Dixieland Jazz Festival. Wow, she was amazing. We were awed at the talent just rolling out of this kid - 15 years old and enough charm, poise and personality to captivate hundreds of folks at this festival. Nice job, Chloe! We look forward to hearing you again someday soon!
And it was great seeing the three little cousins together - they don't see each other often, unfortunately, but even Matthew, for all his hesitancy about strangers, took one look at Chloe when we got out of the taxi from the airport, and took an instant liking to her even though he hadn't seen her since he was about 8 weeks old! This is the kid who got new shoes the day before we left for California, and wouldn't allow the poor saleslady within 10 feet of him; he cried piteously and I could barely get the shoes on him. But his cousin, no way - he liked her the instant he saw her - must be a bond there only they know about!
So yeah, now we're back. Trying to recover from various illnesses and at the same time, wondering when we're going to get all the stuff done for Christmas that needs to be done in the next, oh, 23 days or so. Yikes. On that happy note, maybe I should go clean something. Or maybe get some of my Fall pumpkin decorations put away - which makes me think - hmmmm, I'm awfully late on this - but then I think that it was a wonder I was even able to get them out in the first place, so I guess I have to try and not overlook small favors!