Monday, December 22, 2008

All That Glitters



So, my neighbors were probably thinking I was a little nutty when they drove by and saw me standing in my yard, taking pictures of the snow. But I love it! I just can't get enough!
There is nothing quite as breathtaking as the the calm and quiet of falling snow.

God's glory is made evident through His creation!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sugar, Sugar

Nate and I were in Georgia a few years ago and had the opportunity to try a bunch of new "southern" foods. Fried Green Tomatoes. Grits. She-Crab Soup. For the most part, I thought they were all so-so. Then we happened upon a little riverfront candy store in Savannah. We walked in and were offered a sample of their homemade pralines, something I had heard of, but never tried before. Oh. My. Gosh. Pralines. Amazing.

I've been wanting to try making them ever since that trip, but as I've mentioned before, have a serious fear of making anything that requires a candy thermometer. But they say the best way to overcome your fears is to face them head on, so I decided I'd give it a try. Today was a lazy, snowy Saturday, just five days before Christmas, so I decided that I'd make "Christmas" pralines and give them to our neighbors. While nothing will ever top that first taste in Savannah, these are pretty darn amazing (and SO rich!). Yum!

Southern Pralines

1 C. granulated sugar

1 C. light brown sugar, packed

3/4 C. half and half

1/4 t. salt

2 T. butter

1 t. vanilla

1 cup whole pecans


Butter sides of a heavy saucepan (2 qt. size). Add sugars, half and half, and salt to saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is disolved. Raise heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until mixture boils. Reduce heat and continue cooking to soft ball stage (about 234 degrees) on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat.

Add butter and vanilla, but do not stir. Let sit for five minutes. Stir in nuts. Beat with a wooden spoon until candy is no longer glossy and is thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Quickly spoon candy onto buttered baking sheets or waxed paper. If mixture become too thick to drop from a spoon, add a little hot water, no more than half a teaspoon at a time.

Makes about 16 pralines.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Watch out, Martha Stewart!

Despite the fact that I love to cook, I do have one serious shortcoming. I don't love to bake. I'm just not great at it. Often, my creations are either overdone, or undercooked. It never looks as pretty as the picture (I made the world's most-delicious-yet-ugliest blueberry tart this summer). I find the whole experience frustrating.

I don't have much of a sweet tooth (other than for chocolate, which I can buy at the store) so my lack of baking skills isn't a big deal. I can live without cake. I can live without cookies.


But, it's Christmas, and I'm constantly blessed by friends and neighbors who are coming to my home or office and dropping off delicious homemade treats. I want to return the favor, but am too scared to try my hand at the traditional fudge or peanut brittle (anything that requires a candy thermometer makes me especially nervous).


I was reading a magazine the other day when I found my solution. Truffles. They don't actually require baking. And they're chocolate. And kind of fancy. My neighbors might actually be impressed. Perfect.


So today, I made my first batch of truffles, and am happy to say they turned out quite nicely. They were delicious AND beautiful. Maybe I'm not a lost cause after all!





















Truffles


8 oz. milk chocolate (I used Ghiradelli)
8 oz. dark chocolate (I used Green & Black 70% cocoa dark)
3/4 C. heavy cream
4 T. butter
pinch of salt


Simmer cream in a saucepan until hot (do not boil). Stir in butter and salt
.
Coarsely chop chocolate, and add to cream/butter mixture. Stir until melted.

Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for at least three hours, until chocolate is firm.

Scoop out and roll into one inch balls.


You can add different things to the truffles. I separated mine into three batches before I put it into the fridge:


Batch #1: I kept the ganache plain, and rolled them in finely shaved white chocolate.
Batch #2: I added a little peppermint extract and rolled them in crushed peppermint candies.
Batch #3: I added instand coffee granules and rolled them in a mixture of cocoa powder and powdered sugar.


You can also add Bailey's, cardamom, cinnamon, raspberry preserveres...be creative, pretty much everything is good with chocolate!

O Christmas Tree

This year I have, for the VERY first time, a real, live Christmas tree. I know. It's shocking. My whole life, despite growing up in a house that was beautifully decorated, top to bottom, I've only ever had fake trees. My husband, who grew up with the whole bundle-up-drive-to-the-woods-cut-down-your-own Christmas tree experience has mentioned getting one each year we've been married, but I've always had a reason not to. They're messy. They're inconvenient. They're expensive (we already have a fake one just waiting to be put up, and it won't cost us anything...).

Finally, this year, we decided it was time. We were ready to take the plunge. We only had two criteria. (1.) It had to be a tall, beautiful tree. I had no doubt that I would see it and know, immediatly, that is was the "perfect" tree. (2.) It could not come from a depressing, corporate Christmas tree lot. We wanted to see it in all it's natural habitat before we made our choice, not all wrapped up and leaning against the wall at the local Flowerama. Plus, for Nate it was all about the experience. He wanted me to know, firsthand, what his family had done each year, in the hopes that cutting down the tree could also become a family tradition for us (plus, this was a chance for him to use his saw, which spends most of it's year gathering dust in our garage).

No big deal, right?

So on a frigid Saturday, we bundled up, loaded the dog in our car (after all, this was a family outing!) and headed to a local tree farm. We pulled up, and it was everything I had hoped it would be. There was snow on the ground, there were wreaths and swags and families and an overall air of "Christmasness." We were greeted, given a cup of hot cocoa, and directions out to the field where we could cut down our tree. As we zipped up our coats to head out to the field, the woman who had greeted us casually said, "And all our trees that are available to be cut are six feet tall and under."

Ummm.....what!?!

My husband and I are both extremely tall. We have nine foot ceilings in our house. I had a vision of Nate reaching down instead of up to put the star on the tree, and all my real-live Christmas tree visions came to a screeching halt. I absolutely refused to go home with a tiny, puny, Charlie Brown-style Christmas tree. My tree needed to touch the ceiling. Six feet and under would not do.

We proceeded to thank her for the hot chocolate and return to the car. We got on our cell phones and called the friends we knew who always had a real tree. Where could we get a good one? Where there any other tree farms in the area? Where else could we go? Sadly, the response was either "We got one at a tree farm an hour away," (we had not given ourselves enough time for a road trip) or, "We got ours at Menards," (Nate didn't think they'd want him cutting anything down with his saw at Menards).

We drove aimlessly around town for awhile. We seriously considered going home and putting up the fake tree. We were both seriously bummed out.

Finally, we decided we'd break our rule and stop at a local nursery where they had trees. Although they were pre-cut, it wasn't quite as depressing as buying a tree at Menards. So we drove there, climbed out of the car, zipped up our coats again, and went in search of our perfect tree.

Again, not so easy.

The trees were all wrapped up, so you couldn't really tell what they looked like. They cost a fortune. The guy that was working there was kind of grumpy, which detracted from the whole experience. And, none of them were very tall. More disappointment.

Heading back to the car, we debated going home again. But I would not give up. Despite my strong feelings about tree lots, I suggested that we swallow our fear and head to Home Depot. After a moment or two of deliberation, Nate agreed.

We were there a total of thirty seconds when we walked around around a corner and stopped in our tracks. There it was! The perfect tree!! It was standing right in front of us, and the minute we saw it, we both knew it was the one. It was beautiful. It was perfect. It was actually nine and a HALF feet tall, so we had to have the guy cut some of it off so we could fit it in our house. We paid for it, loaded it up, and headed home. Despite the fact that we didn't get to cut it down ourselves, we were thrilled.

We got it home, and spent the rest of the afternoon decorating it. My family room was covered with pine needles. A giant dead bug fell out of the tree while we were putting the lights on. My hands were covered with sap from the branches. But when we were done, I stepped back and decided that it was the prettiest tree I'd ever seen. It couldn't even compare with the fake tree I'd gotten so used to. Mess or no mess, I don't think I'll ever have another fake tree.

I think we've started a new tradition after all. Next year we'll just have to start at Home Depot first :)





Friday, December 12, 2008

So easy, even a baby can do it!

My in-laws recently had a stroke of genius when they surprised us all by purchasing a Wii. They live in a small town with a backyard that borders a cornfield, so there's not always a lot to do in Stanwood. Between mom, dad, sisters, brother, spouses, aunt, cousins, nieces, nephews...
throw in a few inches of snow and after a few days, we've all got cabin fever...especially the kids.
Enter the Wii. It's pure genius. Not only is entertaining for ALL ages to play, it's fun to grab a comfy spot on the couch and watch as Aunt Carol attempts to challenge my husband to a few rounds of Wii boxing or as Cameron takes on Grandma Linda in a game of tennis. Hilarious. Entertainment this good is priceless.

What's even more priceless...all of my nieces and nephews get involved. Keep in mind that the youngest is only 20 months old. What could be funnier than watching two toddlers attempt to knock one another out in Wii boxing?

Elena & William go head-to-head. I'm not sure she quite grasped the concept as she's not really facing the TV.
Finally! They seem to be getting serious about this...

And, just because they're adorable, here are my nieces, entertaining us with a show where they sang 79 rounds of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." And don't be fooled...this was a real show. We had to pay ten cents each to get in.
Elena was less than thrilled to be excluded from the girls sing-along. She was forced to be a spectator at the event instead.



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