Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Wrapping Up 2011

Milwaukee's Red Arrow Park - photo credit

Wow. I can't buh-LIEVE 2011 is just about over. The older I get, the faster the years fly by. This was a very good year for our family, filled with a million plus blessings. And of course there are those moments I would rather forget, though I know next year I may find myself laughing at the thought of them... maybe. Here's a super quick wrap up of 2011 for me:
  • My daughters turned 2 and 8 years old this year.
  • I won the Rock the Lakes t-shirt design contest over the summer (woot!)
  • Finally found the perfect church for our family.
  • Was baptized!
  • Became a part of the children's ministy at our church.
  • Lily (youngest) began sleeping through the night regularly (yes!)
  • Went on more dates with my handsome than I can count - most dates this year than all of our married years combined!  
  • Reunited with my best friend, Jenny, in 2010, and used much of 2011 to catch up and see our kiddos play together. I'm still completely in awe at where God has led us through the years, together and apart.
  • Surprised the girls with a trip to Disney World!
  • Missed our flight to Disney - I can kind of laugh at the sight of me running through the terminals after screening, Lily in one arm (barely), barefoot, shoes in one hand along with carry ons, and a belt around my neck as I "cheer" Miki to keep running. 
  • Was asked if I was "expecting". (Nope. Can't laugh at that one yet.)
  • Hello Lilypops was born. 
I'm looking forward to 2012, and although I'm normally against New Year's resolutions, I do have a few things on my mind that I would like to take a look at in the New Year. More of that later. For now, I am finishing getting our house back in order after a very busy Christmas. It's amazing how much chaos can sweep through this place in the form of wrapping paper, bows, boxes, tissue paper, cookies and other things that make you go "yummm", toys and instruction manuals, and clothes. All blessings that are not taken for granted, but really makes for some frantic moments when all you're looking for is your phone while you're on you're way out to a third Christmas gathering. I spent today getting my little home back into shape, and am SO thankful for Money Saving Mom's: Whip Your House Into Shape in 2 Hours guide. I've mentioned Money Saving Mom in my Apple Butter post. She has so many helpful tools and ideas that I like to refer to from time to time, and her free, downloadable 2-hour House-Cleaning Checklist was a life saver. Confession:  If I'm sinking in disarray, it's very hard for me to just pick one spot and get to work. I get overwhelmed at looking at an overflowing sink of dishes when the floor needs to be mopped, the laundry needs to be done, the sheets need to be changed, bills need to be payed, and... you get the point. Lists are my best friends (if I actually stick with them). Now, I'm sure it would have taken me 2 hours, but I had some play time with Lily and a coffee break after finishing the first half of the list in an hour. With other distractions and minor interruptions, it did take me most of my day to get through the list, BUT, my little home is BACK and I can relax, enjoy Christmas vacation with the girls, and hopefully get some early shut-eye tonight!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies

Tonight, my eight-year-old daughter and I finally got around to making delicious raspberry thumbprint cookies. This cookie recipe is one of, if not the first, that she remembers baking with me. Tonight, she got to make half of the cookies all by herself. She rolled, frosted, imprinted, and filled each of her little cookies. It was one of those moments where I found myself looking back to her tot years, and not believing that she was now my kitchen assistant. Of course, it didn't help that I had just gone through a bin earlier this evening of her toddler clothes that my youngest can now wear. *sigh* Bittersweet...

Speaking of sweet! These buttery cookies just melt in your mouth and are so addictive. I'm thinking, if I make these next year, I'm going to have a few people in mind to ship them to. They're dangerous, just sitting on the counter... calling my name...

(iPod dead and camera without batteries - cell pic it is.)
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. butter, softened
  • 1 c. granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 tsps. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c. raspberry or cherry jam

1. Combine flour and salt in small bowl. Beat butter and 1/2 cup sugar in large bowl on medium speed of electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract, mix until well blended. Add flour mixture, about 1/2 cup at a time. Mix until soft dough forms. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spread remaining 1/2 cup sugar on a small plate (I put the sugar in a 1 cup measuring cup and just shook the dough ball around). Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll in sugar. Place balls about 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.

3. Bake cookies just until firm, about 5 minutes. Remove cookies from oven. Make deep indentation in center of each cookie.

4. Fill indentations with heaping 1/2 teaspoon of jam (*Hint: Stir the jam first. It will be much easier to spoon into the indentations). Return cookies to oven. Bake for 10 minutes longer or until light golden brown. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely. 

5. Enjoy (and good luck exercising self-control)!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Here We Go, Apple Butter.

That first entry of your journal, blank slate, crisp and clean. My hand would always doubt itself before bringing ink to that first page - cursive or print? big and bubbly or small, slanted letters? Oh, who cares? No one's even going to read this thing. Ever. And besides, you know it'll turn into your grocery list notebook or a doodle pad for one of the kiddos before the year is over... black or pink pen? So, now that I've shared that bit of useless honesty, I can say I feel more at ease with my first blog entry here, at Hello Lilypops. No pen needed = no shaky hand.

This fall kicked off a crazy creative kick in me. First, the hot summer air made way for crisp, fall weather which lent to much more time baking. By the way, by much more, I mean an average of one new fall recipe every other week. The motivation is there, the time isn't. Being in Wisconsin, we have the awesome priviledge of apple picking in the fall. We didn't get around to it this year, but we did load up on bagged apples from the orchard when they were on sale, buy one, get one. Three dollars for six pounds of apples. Can't go wrong there. Then I ran into a recipe for apple butter at Money Saving Mom. Now, I've never tried the stuff before, but it was too easy not to try, and I had everything I needed. Best part? All done in the slow cooker. I have a 4.5 qt. slow cooker, so I had to cut the ingredients down a bit. I'll put my measurements in parenthesis. If you have a slow cooker larger than 4.5 qt., you should be good to follow the original recipe.

Slow Cooker Apple Butter
  • 6 lbs. medium apples - any variety (4 1/2 lbs.)
  • 2 tbs. vanilla extract (1 1/2 tbs.)
  • 1 1/2 c. brown sugar (1 1/4 c.)
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves (3/4 tsp.)
  • 3-4 tsps. cinnamon (I used 3 tsps.)
Peel, core, and slice apples into fourths. Place in slow cooker with vanilla and cook on low for 6-8 hours stirring after every few hours. Once apples are very tender (mine was ready after 5 1/2 hours), mash with a fork or potato masher. Then stir in sugar and spices. Cook on low for another 5-6 hours, stirring occassionally.

Cool and pour into airtight jars or containers. Store in the refrigerator. Makes about 2 pint jars, depending on apple type. (I was able to get out about 5 half pint jars from one batch!)

These would make adorable gifts, which is what I chose to do. There are a few foodies in my family that I know would love this. There are so many ways to personalize the jars, and the different ways to devour this stuff is endless! Money Saving Mom has free apple butter printables that you can apply to your jars, and presto! Doesn't get any easier than that.