Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Horsing Around

We have a deal with our two daughters. If they bring home A's and B's on their report cards each nine weeks, they get to pick any reasonable activity as a reward. We usually go to the movies or skating. This time, they wanted to go horseback riding. The whole experience was a lot of fun and I wanted to share some of the adventures.....

Off they go! The ranch is huge so this is the last we saw of them for the hour time they had. The guide took them up into the trails and let them run the horses for a while. Yippeee!

This is Ellie. She is one of the many boarded horses at the ranch. We spent a lot of our time there feeding the horses sugar cubes.

If you look closely, you can see two riders heading up the trail to the top of the hill. We met some of the owners of the boarded horses while they were out for morning exercise and got a mini education in horse ownership!

In one of the barns on the ranch. Maybe next time, I'll get a chance to ride. Since I haven't been on a horse since I was a kid, that should be quite an adventure!

"He knows when you're happy
He knows when you're comfortable
He knows when you're confident
And he always knows when you have carrots."

"Riding: The art of keeping a horse between you and the ground."
-Author Unknown

Monday, April 28, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake

I just noticed that I seem to be on a chocolate chip kick the past few posts. No reason for it, that I'm aware of consciously anyway! My daughter is celebrating her summer birthday at school today so she asked if I could make her favorite treat, a cookie cake. I'm not sure if that is what it's officially called, but that is what my daughter and her friends call it. It's basically a very large chocolate chip cookie. The recipe is very simple, and in the dozen or so times I've made it, it's never turned out badly. When it was done, I let my daughter decorate. She had a blast, as you can see :)

Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
3/4 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray round cookie pan* with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, cream butter with both sugars. Add the egg and vanilla. Mix well. Stir in flour, baking soda and salt. Add chocolate chips and mix well. Spread into cookie pan using wet spatula or hands rinsed with water to press cookie dough into pan. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until light golden brown on top. Cool for 5 minutes. Carefully remove cookie from pan and cool completely before serving. Decorate as desired.

*Round cookie pans can be purchased from Wiltons. I bought mine from Joann's Fabric shop in the baking section.

"Everything I eat should contain either garlic or chocolate, but rarely both."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Cake

This cake brings back such wonderful memories for me. It's one of my first attempts at baking by myself. I first made it for my 16th birthday, eons ago :) My mother didn't like to bake so I offered to make my own cake. I chose this one. I chose wisely. It's a buttery, crumbly, moist cake layered with cinnamon, sugar and chocolate chips. The texture is cake-like, but it has pockets of crunchy sweet cinnamon and chocolate that form while baking. The sour cream in the batter gives the cake a slight tart taste. It's seriously hard to stop eating this cake!

The recipe is easy to double so I made a large cake (the one in the picture below) for my middle daughter, who went to work with my husband today for take your kids to work day, to share with everyone at the office. I'm waiting on pins and needles to hear the reviews!

Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Cake

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/3 cup sour cream
2/3 cup butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs

1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
6 oz. (1 cup) semi sweet chocolate chips

Grease 13 x 9 pan, set aside. In a large bowl, mix first 9 ingredients on low speed just until moistened. Pour one half of the batter into the prepared pan.

In a small bowl, combine the 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, and the chocolate chips. Spread half over the batter in the pan. Repeat with remaining batter and sugar mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. Cut into squares and serve.

"Birthdays are nature's way of telling us to eat more cake."

"How can a society that exists on instant mashed potatoes, packaged cake mixes, frozen dinners, and instant cameras teach patience to its young?"
-Paul Sweeney

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Shakespeare Quiz

To celebrate Shakespeare's birthday today (who knew?), I took this little quiz. I found out that I know very little about the guy! I got 5 out of 10 and most of that was just lucky guessing on my part. But it was fun and I did end up learning something. How'd you do?


Monday, April 21, 2008

Peach Tree In Bloom

I just had to share the beauty of my peach tree blooming. I love walking out the front door in the morning and seeing the gorgeous pink flowers reaching up to the sun. And besides, it is sort of food related, right? ;)

"I remember his showing me how to eat a peach by building a little white mountain of sugar and then dipping the peach into it."
-Mary McCarthy

“Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education."
-Mark Twain

Saturday, April 19, 2008

What The Heck is Nutella?

I asked the same question when I first heard of the stuff. It's actually a spread made out of hazelnuts, cocoa and milk. It's a product of Canada but is distributed through New Jersey. The jar says you can use it on breads, bagels, english muffins, croissants, etc. I've never used it on any of those foods yet. I either eat it out of the jar, or put it in something sweet. It's has a high fat/calorie content- two tablespoons equals 190 calories and 11 grams of fat. But oh so worth it!

Nutella Ice Cream

The Nutella bug bit again. I just couldn't seem to help myself last week after the biscotti cookies came out so good, I had to see what else Nutella would make delicious. The opportunity came up the next day when our bottom feeder fish, Corey took his last swim and had a burial at sea. My kids were distraught. So while they were at school, I made homemade ice cream and decided to add Nutella, one of their favorite sweets. The smiles on the kids' faces was priceless. A perfect tribute to Corey.

Nutella Ice Cream

1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup half and half
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla
dash of salt
1/2 cup Nutella

In a medium bowl, combine milk, sugar, and salt. Stir with a wire whisk until dissolved.

Put Nutella in a small bowl and place in microwave for 10 to 15 seconds, or until soft but not melted. Add 1/4 cup of the half and half to Nutella and place back into the microwave. Heat another 10 to 15 seconds until warm but not hot. Whisk together until blended (may have some tiny pieces of chocolate). Add slowly to milk and sugar blend.

Stir in remaining half and half, heavy whipping cream, and vanilla. Pour into ice cream maker and follow manufacturer's instructions.

Makes 1 quart.

“I doubt whether the world holds for any one a more soul-stirring surprise than the first adventure with ice cream"
-Heywood C. Broun

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Chocolate Nutella Biscotti

A cookie made out of Nutella? And how is this a bad thing? I got inspired by one of my favorite blogs, Chocolate Chipped. She is on a Nutella kick this week and it's fantastic fun. And if you love Nutella, this is a great way to use it. I made these cookies and they were gone within a day. Eat them alone or with a cup of hot tea. Really delicious!

Chocolate Nutella Biscotti

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 salt
1/2 cup Nutella
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup hazelnuts

In a large bowl, beat eggs until frothy. Add the sugar then beat on high for 2 minutes. Add Nutella and mix well.
In an another bowl, mix flour, cocoa, baking soda and baking powder, and salt. Sift together then add slowly to egg mixture. Stir together but don't overmix. Add chocolate chips and nuts, if desired.

Flour hands well. Divide the dough into two even sections. Form into two rectangle shaped logs about 1/2 inch thick. Bake on baking sheet covered in parchment paper in a 350 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

Remove from oven, turn oven down to 300 degrees. Using a serrated knife, cut logs into 1/2 inch slices. Place on sides on baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Turn biscotti over and bake another 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on rack.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

"Don't wreck a sublime chocolate experience by feeling guilty."
-Lora Brody

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Aren't We All Super Heroines?

I turned out to be Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. Since I've never watched the show, I guess I better get up to speed! What did you turn out to be?


Monday, April 14, 2008

Pound Cake Cookies

When I was looking for something different to make for the cookie tray, the name of these cookies caught my eye. Pound cake....who can resist that? I also had never heard of this cookie. Of course, that means I have to try it, especially if it's as easy as this recipe was to make. The cookies have a distinct favor because of the rum added to the batter. The texture is soft, chewy, and buttery. The recipe says the cookies won a blue ribbon at a state fair competition. I believe it!
Pound Cake Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon rum or 1/2 teaspoon imitation rum extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
About 42 pecan halves

Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add sugar. Beat well. Add egg yolk, rum, and vanilla. Beat well.

Combine flour and salt in a bowl. Gradually add to butter mixture, beating well. Cover and chill at least 2 hours or until firm.

Shape cookie dough into 1 inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Press 1 pecan half into each cookie.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool for 2 minutes on baking sheets then move to wire racks to cool completely.

Makes about 3 1/2 dozen.

From: Southern Living Homestyle Cooking

"Cookies are made of butter and love."
-Norwegian Proverb

Friday, April 11, 2008

Gimme My Grits!

Grits are hard to find here in the North. Instant grits? Sure, got plenty of those. But as a southerner, would I use instant grits? I don't think so! Anyway you eat them (mine is with honey, butter and a touch of salt), they are wonderful. Here is a really fun site for southerners and wanna be southerners alike that includes recipes for grits and other southern delicacies.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Pizzelle Cookies

I just love pizzelles! I never really tasted one until I was an adult. I'm not sure if they are regional or I was just never in the right place at the right time as a kid :) This recipe is a tried and true version. It was given to me by a friend who was like a mom to me and I have used it a dozen or so times since then. It comes out great every time.


1/2 cup butter
3 eggs
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp. vanilla

Beat butter until smooth. Gradually add sugar, eggs and vanilla. Stir.
In separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. Add egg mixture. Stir. Dough will be sticky and soft.

Place by spoonful onto hot pizzelle iron. Follow iron instructions for baking times.

Makes about 6 dozen.

"C is for cookie, it's good enough for me; oh cookie cookie cookie starts with C."
-Cookie Monster (Sesame Street)

Monday, April 7, 2008

How I Got To Know Autism

Although I try to keep my blog a fun and hopefully interesting place to visit, I feel it's important to acknowledge Autism Awareness month. Autism was something I was barely aware of until it did a sneak attack on our family. My son was diagnosed just after the age of 3.

Like many parents, I thought my son's delayed speech was just due to his being a boy or maybe he just wasn't going to be a big talker. When he wasn't talking by age 3 though, we decided to get his hearing checked. When his hearing was found to be fine, we got him into speech therapy. After a few months, he was talking a little, but something still didn't seem right.

My husband and I decided to get our son evaluated at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh, just to see what might be going on, but not suspecting anything serious. Our son did not do well during the evaluation. At the end, the psychologist gave us her results. There it was. A diagnosis I thought I'd never hear. PDD-NOS. All my parenting experience and all my education in psychology didn't even take the edge off hearing that diagnosis. I had no idea what Autism really was and what it meant. I had never met an autistic child and never paid much mind to the stories about it on the news. And I was happy in my ignorance until that day.

For a few weeks after the diagnosis, my husband and I were in shock but we kept trying to educate ourselves and finding the best options for treatment for our son. It was a maze of confusion, but we found some great people to help us through. And thank God we live here in Pennsylvania. The services are numerous and all funded by the state. I will be forever grateful. But I know other families in other states are not as blessed. The stories I've heard and read are astounding. Parents having to go as far as to mortgage their house just to get their child treatment. The stress between the diagnosis, treatment, and cost would be unbelievable on a family.

Fast forward a year, give or take. After hours upon hours of wraparound services in our home, speech and OT therapy, Wonderkids social groups, pre-school, and special GF/CF doctors and diet, our son 4 1/2 year old is a completely different kid! He blends in at pre-school so well that other parents say they can't tell he has a diagnosis. He knows his colors, can count to 40, can spell some words, read some words, play on the computer by himself, and laugh and play with other kids. He is not out of the woods yet, but there is hope that one day he won't need therapy and a GF/CF diet anymore and that he can function on his own. That will be a happy day indeed!

But I know plenty of parents who have children with more severe Autism. They need help, so much help. If even one more person out there is better informed and can speak out, that is a positive move towards getting kids with autism what they need.

Please learn what you can and do what you can to make a difference. No action is too small or insignificant.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Cookie Tray

Right before Easter, I somehow got an intense need to bake. So along with making cookies and desserts for Easter, I made a cookie tray for my husband's co-workers. They could not have been more grateful. Last week, they sent request via my husband for another tray of goodies. So today, I cleared my schedule (as much as possible anyway!) and went to work. The above picture is the result. I'd love to share the recipes because all the cookies came out delicious!
For today, I'm going to take the easy recipe (I'm too tired to do anything too complicated!). I'll share the other recipes on the next few posts.

Heath Bars are one of my favorite easy cookies to make. They are just so sinful! And they do taste very much like the candy bar they are named after. They are the cookies in the middle of the tray above.

Heath Bars

56 saltine crackers
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp. baking soda
12 ounce bag milk chocolate or semi sweet chips
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375. Line a large cookie sheet with foil. Spray with cooking spray. Lay saltines to cover cookie sheet.

Melt butter over medium heat, add brown sugar and bring to a boil for 1 min only. Remove from heat and add baking soda. Pour mixture over crackers, making sure all crackers are covered completely.

Bake in oven for 10 minutes. Remove sheet from oven and sprinkle immediately with chocolate chips. Let chocolate chips melt then spread evenly over crackers. Sprinkle with chopped nuts. Let cool in refrigerator or overnight on counter. Break apart when done.

“We spend so much time in the office that our co-workers become our extended family."
-Cecelia Dwyer

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Tattoos With A Purpose

This is a terrific site I found about today in the newspaper. What a great idea! I love products that help keep my kids safe.