Monday, December 29, 2008

Parting Gifts

For the past three years, I have taught Primary in my ward. I was first called as the Sunbeam teacher in 2006, and my class consisted of four little 3 year olds: Elijah, Brigham, Iverson and Maria. They had been attending primary for several months without a regular teacher, so they hardly knew what to expect. Plus, they were accustomed to Nursery where they got to play for 2 hours and be treated with a snack every Sunday. After our little bunch formed we had a few regular occurances. One little girl cried every Sunday; fortunately, she later got to the point where she only cried if I wasn't there, and another jello legged little boy fell out of his chair every chance he could get! And of course, I loved them to pieces.

The next year the children moved up to CTR 5, (CTR stands for Choose The Right) and since we had a good thing going I moved up with them. I was elated! Being older, we were supposed to cut out the snack portion - but along with my counterparts, I never quite accepted that guideline. We often had visitors in our class, Ian, Zack, or Noah, and finding a regular Sunbeam teacher still proves difficult so Shannon and Ellie joined our class on occasion.

This year, I moved up again to CTR 6 with my original four kids but our class was combined with all of junior primary ages 4-7, (with the exception of Sunbeams) so our numbers often exceeded our regular 8 class members not to mention visitors and the sometimes frequent Sunbeams.

When I found out a month ago that in 2009 I wouldn't be moving up once again with my primary kids, I was heartbroken. I really wanted to give the children something that would commemorate our time together, and something that would remind them of me. Finally, 2 nights ago, on Saturday about 10pm it came to me, and I solicited my husbands help which prompted him to ask:

"Why do we have to do this every Saturday night in the middle of the night?"

"Because," I answered. "That's when it comes to me, I can't help that I get my inspiration at the last minute."

I checked at Desert Book, but nothing seemed right - not to mention cost a fortune! They do have adorable puzzles with a picture of Christ blessing the little children, and you can write a message on the back that they can read after they put the puzzle together, but they only had 1 in stock.

My inspiration: CTR pillows!! Now, I am certainly no master seamstress, but in this case I don't think it mattered one bit! I got the pattern from my Primary Lesson Manual - sort of. I took the CTR badge and enlarged it 150%. I cut out the shield and used it as my pattern for the base.

Then I cut out each individual letter and used those as a pattern for the CTR. That is where I solicited my husbands help; I owe a huge thank you to my wonderful husband! I could not have finished those before Sunday without him, and you'll see below how adept his cutting skills are! As I mentioned before it was 10pm when I got the idea - so I simply stitched atop each letter around the edges, I've used this technique before and I actually really like the effect. And since I didn't have the time to hide all the seams, I simply sewed the edges on the outside of the pillow deepening the impression of the CTR. They aren't perfect, but I just loved them, and my kids seemed to feel the same way!

Then of course we celebrated with Peppermint Bark - the easiest Christmas treat!

Line preferred pan with wax paper and coat with a very thin layer of butter.
Melt dark chocolate to spreading consistency and spread over wax paper to line bottom of pan.
Allow to set in fridge until hardened.
Melt milk chocolate to spreading consistency and spread over dark chocolate.
Allow to set in fridge until hardened.
Crush peppermint candies/candy canes, your choice, into tiny pieces.
Melt white chocolate to spreading consistency and spread over milk chocolate.
Immediately pour peppermint over white chocolate so that it can set into chocolate.

(This is not my peppermint bark, per se, the photo is courtesy of an unnamed source via Google images.)

Next year, I'll be ringing in the new year as Sunbeam and CTR 5 teacher (Sunbeam teachers are hard to come by). I am looking forward to it; I'll have two children that I frequently taught this year, plus the younger sister of my crier, and the younger brother of Mr. Jello Legs.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cat's B-day Cake

Hello Peeps. This is Cat's Husband Gabriel.

I am not nearly the baker Catherine is. Though, I am able to cook a pretty mean breakfast, which I attribute to the years I spent toiling away at a breakfast restaurant in Provo Utah.

Anyways. I made Catherine a cake for her Birthday this year and had some fun. So I decided to keep the tradition going and make a better cake for her every year. I set the bar pretty low this year I think.

Here are some photos of my mad cake making skills!

Boxed cake mixes are a big no no! I went beyond that and made the ultimate taboo! Not only did I use a yellow cake and a chocolate cake. But one is Betty Crocker and the other is Duncan Hines! I think I've broken some culinary laws with this one!

I did make the butter cream frosting by hand though. There ended up not being enough so I made another batch. I wanted to make a pink cake, but we were out of red food coloring, so I added some pink sugar sprinkles (I know, I am pretty fancy)

With candles!

And here is the Birthday Girl digging in! She was kind and insisted that it was delicious. I have lived with her long enough to know when she is lying. Thanks babe! Happy Birthday!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Guiding Light

A Christmas Tree just isn't right without a star adorning the top stem. For me, a star symbolizes everything that constitutes what Christmas is. When Christ was born it signified His birth, the very birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ; it led the shepherds and the wise men to Him; and it is today representative of His guiding light and wisdom. The first year Gabriel and I were married, we didn't have money for ornaments or decorations, much less a star to light the top of our tree. Instead I stitched together a little homemade star, and sewed a small loop on the back out of yarn. 6 years later, this is what happened to our star...:

In this photo, Scooby Doo is representing Tipsy our 1 year old Lhasa Poo who should be aptly named for the untold amounts of mischief she conducts... or so I thought, until this morning when I found our star hiding below a smattering of ribbon rolls. I was elated! I hope that this star will last as long as we can perch it atop our tree. It is representative of our marriage, a shining beacon of what celestial glory we can attain as we place the Lord at the helm of our lives.

I love Christmas! In our home, decorating the Christmas tree lasts as long as the season itself. Of course we have one big trimming party to kick start the festivities, but like much of the rest of the season I just can't get enough of it. Plus of course, as the season progresses items are placed on sale, especially whole cranberries, and nothing is better than red strung cranberries on a green Christmas tree.

Starting with our first Christmas together we have retained, not only our tradition of keeping our scratch made star, but our tradition of scratch and earth made ornaments for our tree. The smell of fruit and pine couldn't appease my senses more delightfully. In addition to strung cranberries we slice lemons, limes, grapefruit and oranges sprinkled with a little bit of sugar. We leave them to sit overnight, and hang them to dry on the tree throughout the season. The tree lights shine through them and cast a beautiful glow upon the room. You can see a bit of a grapefruit ornament behind Scooby.

For fun, I kept a few limes whole and whipped up a lime tart, but then I ate it just as quickly so I don't have any photos!

Tart: Lime
Topping: Whipped Cream

(Crust courtesy of Ginny Johnson)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 cup butter

Cut ingredients together until they resemble small pebbles and then press into tart pan.

Whip together:
4 eggs until they turn light yellow
14 oz. sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup lime juice (2)
Grated limes (2)

Pour into crust. Bake at 350° for 12 minutes. Remove and cool.

This year, I don't know how I came up with it, I brilliantly thought of wrapping tee balls in my own fabric. I tried for many hours, and then commissioned my husband, and then bought a new hot glue gun to wrap the balls tight with fabric-like store bought ornaments. I now believe that is impossible, so I settled for wrapping them up and tying them with ribbon; I'm thrilled with the results.

Fortunately, I also had on hand a delightful assortment of ribbon including Christmas ribbon. Some of the ribbon is polka dotted as you can see, the striped ball has cute little chickens on it, below the yellow ball has gorgeous cupcakes on the ribbon, but most of the ribbon says, "Ho Ho Ho", "Merry Christmas", "I've been good", or Santa is Coming". No glue, tape or staples are involved, so if you like you can unwrap and reuse for alternate purposes.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Warm Buns

My favorite memories are of any day, any event, any occasion as long as Bammieroo's Orange Rolls were involved, (Bammieroo being my adored Grandmother on my Mom's side as featured in Turkey Lurkey) even funerals.

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints we do not view funerals as a sad occasion, but as a joyous opportunity to celebrate a person's life. I didn't know my great Aunt Deltsa, but I remember her funeral because of the orange rolls. I remember everyone laughing and reminiscing as we all wrestled over getting the first glimpse of the Orange Rolls as Bammieroo pulled them out of the oven. We probably ate 4-5 dozen that day and each time laughed and wrestled as they came out of the oven. I remember Bammieroo smiling, commenting how much her sister loved Orange Rolls.

Like German Chocolate Cake, I don't need an excuse to make Orange Rolls and I make them often to appease my senses, or so I can hear oohs and aahs reverberate off the walls when I have dinner guests.

A few years ago my husband and I realized were living in Briar Patch Heaven. It was late August and blackberries were everywhere! We had recently found a large chest freezer on Craigslist and filled it, quite literally to the brim, full of blackberries. I decided to attempt a substitution for my cherished orange rolls, and swapped oranges for blackberries. The results were incalculable! Divine and delicious and delectable.

Then I got crazy and attempted a few other variations. The result? Sweet Roses: Choc o làt.

First: You need an excellent sweet dough. I will never divulge my Bammieroo's recipe... so sorry!
Second: One 8oz. jar of Fahrenheit 350° Sweet Sauce: Choc o làt.

Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thick. Spread sauce over dough and roll up tight. Place in cupcake tins, or desired baking pans - making sure to grease extremely well! Allow to rise double the size and spilling over the tops of the pan. Bake at 350°F until done. For cupcake tins: 8-10 minutes, for larger pans 19-22 minutes.

Remove immediately from pan. While still warm, coat with more Sweet Sauce and enjoy while hot, with a dab of butter on each bite.

Another variation is with Fahrenheit 350° Sweet Sauce: Càr à mel. Substitute caramel sauce for chocolate sauce and sprinkle sauce with toasted pecans. Roll up tight and follow recipe same as above. The result? Sweet Roses: Sticky Càr à mel.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Frightful Weather

I remember one snow day in high school, not one snow day in particular, but one snow day in totality. That wasn't because we had to trudge to school in the snow no matter what, but because it doesn't snow in Portland. I took pictures of that one solitary snow day because that is what a huge deal it was.

I remember one snow day in college too, again because it was such a big deal. It was in 2004 and the entire city shut down. It started with snow but then turned to treacherous ice. Gabriel had to go to a meeting across the Fremont and was stalled on the over pass, watching car and truck after car attempt to go over... but slam into the eastern facing side railing because it was so slick.

I've been told the Farmer's Almanac predicts world wide this year to be the worst winter ever, maybe worse for those in -26° F Minnesota, but here it's a novelty and I call that best! Church was even canceled (Thanks Bishop!) and the missionaries were forbidden from driving or teaching. Fortunately we live across the street, and I got to play hostess while we enjoyed hot chocolate, marshmallow popcorn, cupcakes, butter toffee and pumpkin pie.

You can find the recipe for Toffee at my sister Pamela's blog: French Knots although personally I prefer equal parts white sugar and butter; quite tasty.

The marshmallow popcorn is conveniently called: Yummy Popcorn by my sister Jill from whom the recipe derives:

Pop 2-3 bags of butter microwave popcorn

Melt over medium heat:
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup Karo syrup
1 cup butter

Bring to boil for 3 minutes. Watch closely because you don't want to cook it any longer.

Remove from heat.

3 cups mini marshmallows
1 teaspoon of vanilla

Stir until mallows are melted and pour over popcorn. Stir to evenly coat popcorn.

Good luck keeping your sticky fingers out of this and pray for more snow here in Portland!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Compulsory Addictions

We have been known to throw a couple of pretty sensational parties in our day - all with the same theme: J.J. Abrams.

Lost is easily and profoundly, not only the most intelligent television show to air to date, but it is disturbingly entertaining. I possess a compulsory addiction to Lost. I have expelled my theories regarding the island, the wheel, the foot statue, the plane crash, intermediary relations, the conspiracies, philosophical connections, Dharma, and/plus the stations, etc. upon... well if you know me, you.

Every Christmas, Gabriel and I write an adorable little diddy for Christmas entitled: "The Go Ahead." It's our version of a family newsletter. A year back, we wrote a story about my missing gray sweat pants... where did we find them? On Sawyer, in episode 26 "Man of Science, Man of Faith".

And, one such party is anticipating an arrival date of January 21, 2009. We are all prepared to take work off January 22, because yes, it is going to be that epic.

Well, J.J. Abrams has done alright so far with Fringe. Yet, that's all I'm willing to give him until he starts expanding the underlying storyline. However, every week we host a little Fringe party. Recently I graced the attending geeks with pumpkin cake, honoring the season, the occasion, and J.J. Abram's genius.

Cake: Pumpkin
Topping: Cream Cheese Frosting

4 eggs
1 2/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup canola/vegetable oil
Beat until creamy

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Mix until just incorporated

Stir in 16 oz. pumpkin

You can make these in bars, cake rounds, or cupcakes - I don't play by the rules, so neither should you.
Bake at 350°
Top with frosting

(camera phone picture)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Happy Birthday Mom

I never need an excuse to make German Chocolate Cake, but every once in a while an excuse does present itself, such as my mother's birthday a few days ago on November 17. German Chocolate Cake has long been the Johnson cake of choice dating back to at least 1965.

My mother always made a big to do about birthdays! I remember the beautiful bows my mother would adorn our presents with; I remember plenty of meals at The Old Spaghetti Factory; and I remember German Chocolate Cake. My favorite memories are birthday memories, but not just my birthday memories. Since my parent's made such a to do about birthdays they all seemed extra special; especially Michael's birthday on August 25. Even though he left our home to be with our Heavenly Father more than six years ago, we still make a cake in commemoration every year and every year it is German Chocolate. We always knew when Michael's birthday was coming up, because he started a countdown directly after New Years, in January!

Needless to say, birthdays are a big to do in my home too! whether you are a pet, a friend, or a family member. Some years we are able to to do more than others depending on the green rubbing off our fingerprints, but no matter what, I can always make a cake!

Making German Chocolate Cake this go around, I tried something a wee bit different. The cake itself and the gravel was all by the book, courtesy of Baker's German Chocolate - the one and only recipe you should ever consider when making German Chocolate cake. Typically I make 3 cakes, and slice each layer in half. Chocolate frosting goes between each slice, and gravel between both layers, but since we moved and our oven is the size of my thumb, I can now only make two.

The chocolate exterior frosting called for a change because dear Ginny is the only person you will ever meet that will not fall comatose, or get tingly tongue when eating highly maniacal amounts of frosting and requests that the edifice contain more frosting than cake.

Cake: German Chocolate Cake
Frosting: Sweet Sauce: Choc o làt

Simple. Take one jar Fahrenheit 350° chocolate sauce, mix with 1 1/2 pounds powdered sugar. To avoid tingly tongue, omit powdered sugar, but you will need to increase amount of chocolate sauce needed.

Monday, December 8, 2008

My First

Today, I am pretty excited about the fact that I was invited to a cookie exchange.

I decided to make what my cookie book called: Chocolate Peppermint Refrigerator Cookies, but I am calling them Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies. The reasons are two fold: 1) I simply like the name better, 2) I should have pinwheeled them; it would have been a lot easier.

Having never been to a cookie exchange before, let alone a Christmas cookie exchange, I didn't know any of the basic rules... such as "regular cookies" aren't part of the foray. I figured we would have chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles, gingersnaps, chocolate crinkles and I was very concerned with not submitting a rerun cookie. In actuality though, the spread was almost unilaterally composed of variations of the sugar cookie. Mine, of the peppermint persuasion, spritz, by definition sugar cookies, brown sugar cookies, store bought sugar cookies, gingerbread cookies, praline cookies, orange cookies and so on that you get the point. Which honestly, I should have been able to deduce prior to the event.

If there is one thing that defines me as a baker it is this: I can't will myself (no matter how hard I try) to stick to a recipe without deviation. Oh wait there's another thing too: I can't will myself (no matter how teeming my calender is) to make my showcase earlier than the day of. I didn't have peppermint candies to crush, and I didn't have peppermint extract. I did however have white chocolate peppermint Hersey's kisses though, and I figured they would do the trick - the morning of. They are delicious by the way!

All in all they turned out sufficient. I would make a few changes, should I ever make this recipe again, and I have made those adjustments in the recipe below. I will say however, this recipe has inspired me for how to make my birthday cake in 15 days (which is all that matters, and all I've been thinking about for the past 2 months)!!

Cookie: Peppermint Pinwheels

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter
1 egg

Mix well until fluffy.

2 2/3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Add to butter sugar mixture until combined. Seperate dough in half.

To one half add:
1 tablespoon milk
1/4 cup baking cocoa

To other half add:
1/4 cup Hersey's Peppermint Kisses
1/2 teaspoons peppermint extract.
1/4 cup crushed Peppermint candies

Roll chocolate dough flat 1/4 inch thick on wax paper. Press peppermint dough on top of chocolate dough until they are parallel and no chocolate dough is visible. Using wax paper roll doughs together until they form a long log. Transfer to a fresh sheet of wax paper and roll until the shape is smooth and circular. Wrap with wax paper and aluminum foil and refrigerate until firm.

Cut slices to desired width, and bake in preheated oven at 350° for 6 -7 minutes for soft and chewy, 8-10 for crispy but melt in your mouth.

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