An Internal War

It is hard to believe but it has been over two years since we left our beloved Pittsburgh to move to the Atlantic Seacoast. It seems both so long ago and just yesterday. I look around at all the boxes still waiting to be unpacked and realize it was nearly yesterday that we moved into our new home. Then, while unpacking, I come across the stacks upon stacks of real estate listings and think how long ago those searches seem and how grateful I am that period of our lives has passed. I open my laptop and look at the pictures of the kids and wonder how it is possible that all this time has gone by so very quickly and how another babe is now the same age as our third was when we first moved up here. And every time I get lost in this new little harbor town of ours, I think back to all those practiced routes I knew so well back home. And there it is… that word, home, showing where my heart truly lies and that it will likely take a bit more time until I consider myself a New Englander.

And so, within that state of mind, we come to a battle that is waging in my very own heart, mind, and kitchen… that of the Gob vs. the Whoopie Pie!

It may seem a trivial matter, but let me assure you, it’s as serious as the pop vs. soda debate, or sub vs. grinder, or heaven help me, Steelers vs. Patriots. It’s just not some switch a girl can flip in her heart of hearts. There is simply not enough room for both to exist; it is one or the other. To find yourself considering the merits of the other side, even for a moment, raises serious questions of identity that can shake you to your very core. This is not politics; there can be no flip-flopping. And so I have been raising my kids as any self-respected mid-western PA girl would and have been making gobs ever since they were old enough to appreciate them.

I’ve used quite a few different recipes, but lately we’ve been working from the book Whoopie Pies by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell. Interestingly, the introduction reads like a personal byline of my own :: a heritage in Mid-Western PA, homes in San Francisco and Boston for a time as well. So other than the obvious mistaken choice of title, I feel like I could be friends with these two women.

So far, we’ve stuck to the classic chocolate, changing only the shortening to coconut oil and making the temperature a bit lower and cooking time a bit longer to prevent the cakes from cracking. Also, I use a different filling, preferring a less sweet, cooked roux frosting to the marshmallow fluff icing recipe in the book. I love Alicia Paulson’s (of the blog Posie Gets Cosy) Cloudburst Frosting.

I like to make ours inky dinky, enough for a bite or two, as that seems like the right size for both the kids and myself. Eating two seems just decadent enough, whereas one big one can be a bit too much sweet for us all.

Because the little ones like to bake them with me as much as they enjoy eating them, this year, for their advent calendar, we set aside one day just for making special Christmas gobs. And here’s the ticket we used…

And there it is, plain as day, unintended, but in black and white; Whoopie Pies. Maybe, just maybe, there might be a teensy sliver of room in this heart for not just one home, but two.

Classic Chocolate Whoopie
by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell
adapted by yours truly

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
4 TBS unsalted butter at room temperature
4 TBS coconut oil
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk

Position rack in center of over; preheat to 325. Line baking sheets with parchment or silpat.

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In the work bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together butter, coconut oil, and brown sugar on low until combined, increasing speed to medium and beating batter until fluffy, approximately 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat for another 2 minutes.

Add half the flour mixture and half the milk to the batter, beat on low until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of bowl and add remaining flour mix and milk, beating until completely combined. Let rest for at least twenty minutes.

Drop 1 TBS of batter onto prepared baking sheets and repeat, spacing each at least 2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time for approximately 14 minutes, or until the cookies spring back when gently pressed. Remove from oven, let cakes cool for 5 minutes, then remove from sheet to cooling rack.

When completely cool, spread Cloudburst Frosting on one flat side of one cookie, pressing another cookie flat side down on top. Try not to eat too many before dinner.


Catching Up on Christmas :: The Scarf

This year, I somehow became the head room parent for my first grader’s class. Trust me, it’s sounds much more exciting than it is; my duties are mostly limited to party planning. So, for the class’s holiday party instead of asking for money, I asked the students to help me pull together a special gift for their beloved teacher; a scarf featuring pieces of their artwork.

Each student was sent home with a little brown paper bag containing a small square of silk that had been stabilized on freezer paper, either a purple or a silver—her favorite colors—fabric pen, and a sheet of instructions that asked the students to draw a small design for their teacher. I had planned on cutting the designs into stars as her class theme is “The Home of the Stars” and sewing them onto another fringed silk scarf that I had dyed purple, but I couldn’t bring myself to cut away any part of those little drawings. They were just too sweet. The silk had to be stabilized because it was just too flimsy for first graders to draw on without it bunching and moving around and making a huge mess. At home I usually tape it down but I didn’t want to make more work for the parents. I called the folks over at Dharma Trading Co to ask for recommendations for both the stabilizer and the nicest pens, and they were the ones who told me ironing the silk to the plastic side of freezer paper was probably the easiest (and cheapest) solution! You gotta love a company that is willing to tell you to use something you can buy at the grocery store over something much more expensive on their site!

As I mentioned, I wanted to stitch the art onto a hand dyed silk scarf, but in the end, that scarf was entirely too small. Luckily I found a beautiful organic cotton jersey scarf while I was out shopping one day that was the perfect size.

In the end I didn’t end up stitching them on the scarf at all. I have to admit I started to panic just a little bit when I went to remove the freezer paper backing and the silk started to fray! EEK! Luckily, an emergency trip to JoAnn’s and a quick talk with one of the ladies led me to another stabilizing product, Wonder Under, an iron-on fabric stabilizer that would not only prevent the silk from fraying, but also attach it to the jersey! Emergency resolved! And since I was running low on time I didn’t end up using any embroidery at all but relied on the Wonder Under to attach each design to the scarf. It would have been nice to have a blanket or whip stitch around the edge of the drawings, but, well, I always think I have more time time than I actually do.

I did add a few silver stars drawn on with one or two of the silver fabric markers sent back by the parents, and I think it tied it all together rather nicely to the class theme. Those drawings were so very sweet, and it was very obvious how much they cared for their teacher. I know that the hero worship of their teachers is something that won’t last forever, so I really relished the opportunity to commemorate their adoration with something a little more personal than a gift certificate.

The kids were so proud, and what was even sweeter was how excited they became to tell her all about their drawings when she went around to each child during the party to thank them individually.

I can’t wait to do one for myself with my four little ones!

Soup for Saturday

Saturdays are lazy days here for us. A day of rest under normal circumstances, we have found ourselves in pretty desperate need of some good, old fashioned PJ days while everyone’s immune systems recover for whatever new round is heading our way. The littles are getting over their sniffles, the husband is finally willing to try some food, and I need something quick and easy. I can think of no better time for some soup.

Due to everyone’s illness, we’re a bit low on groceries, and barely have any produce. However, we have an overabundance of carrots at the moment, erHEM, since I kept forgetting to remove them from the grocery list. We also had some ginger. Carrot Ginger soup it is then! However, in looking for a recipe, I came across one that also included miso. I’m going through a bit of a miso phase right now—a big steaming mug of miso soup my current breakfast of choice—so, this recipe sounded quite intriguing.

It was yummy. The soup itself was simple to make, and the miso tahini carrot paste was the perfect addition to brighten it up. The only change I made was to add a bit of orange juice to the soup, since we had extra in the fridge and I needed some extra liquid to blend it more easily. The coriander and cinnamon added just the right amount of interest to keep it from being totally boring, without making it over-spiced for the kids or my husbands currently sensitive stomach (boo for gastrointestinal viruses).

Ah yes, it was a lovely shade of orange. Such a nice bright spot in what was a rather quiet, mundane day.

I’m looking forward to some leftovers tomorrow!

The Birthday Shirt Tradition

A few, erm, years ago, our littlest babe turned one, and to celebrate the bigger kids made her a birthday shirt. Since then, the making of the shirts has become a family ritual we all look forward to. We may have missed a birthday or two with all our crazy adventures in the past two years, but now that some of our kids are older, I am reminded several weeks in advance that it is time to make the new shirts; it’s a bit of pestering that I really don’t mind.

This year, as our third child turned three at the beginning of December, it was starting to look like we might not be able to pull it all together, what with all the Christmas preparations and a special surprise birthday that required a quick trip back to my childhood home. But in the end and even though it was completed in the last few possible minutes, it was done, and I’m glad I had all my helpers pushing me to finish.

It’s sometimes hard to tell who loves these shirts the most, the givers or the receiver!

The process has changed in the few years since we began this little tradition of ours. I still tape a scrap of an old tshirt to a piece of cardboard to stabilize it, but now instead of having at it with sharpies, we’ve purchased a few fabric markers that don’t bleed. The peace of mind I have when I throw the shirt into the washing machine knowing that it won’t ruin any other clothes is totally worth the extra expense in my mind!

As the kids get older, the designs become more elaborate, which makes a bit more work for me in sewing it all together. Where I used to stitch the pieces in place using reverse applique, I now just use a running stitch to attach it to the top. That’s one extra step saved! And unsurprisingly, the only one who noticed or cared was myself.

We have another special first birthday to celebrate in a few short weeks, a last first birthday for our last and littlest babe. I can’t wait to see what the kids come up with!

A New Year, A Few New Adventures

2011. The year that left this blog in the dust. Since last we spoke, uh, a year and a half ago a few changes have occurred ::

  • a surprise pregnancy (discovered very shortly after the previous post on June 20), which led to
  • a difficult, challenging pregnancy (filled with lots of stress, health issues, and more bed rest than anyone could shake a stick at), which led to
  • a brand new and fantastically healthy baby girl (only two weeks early), which led to
  • a shopping trip for the new family car (yes, we found this family of six eying up the dreaded minivan), which led to, of course
  • a surprise home purchase! (wha?)

Yup, it’s a true story that has garnered many laughs these past few months; we left our lovely rental home one day to pick up a minivan and came home with a house! No one could have been more surprised than we were, but an unexpected opportunity popped up, and we suddenly found ourselves finagling our finances to make a down payment only two short weeks after extending our lease for a total of three years. Whoops! Amazingly, it all came together without a hitch, and suddenly, before we could even grasp the luck we managed to fall into, we became home owners once again!

There is so much to show and record as we make this new house our home. Since we moved in I’ve been itching to get back here to keep track of all my ideas, my progress, and the things that keep us busy during the day. 2011—well 2009 and 2010 as well, I suppose— were years full of transition and upheaval and I’m hoping 2012 is a year where some deeper roots take hold and keep us quiet and content for a bit.

But before I delve into the new home, let’s celebrate (or memorialize even!) a few things I did manage to get to in the rental. One of which was the breakfast room.

Ah, the breakfast room. In our two years for looking for homes here, it was rare the property we saw that didn’t have a breakfast room. It wasn’t something that was on our list, and as a matter of fact, we both felt it was a bit of wasted space, especially since we wanted a kitchen island with space enough for an eat-in counter. So when we saw this rental home, we weren’t thrilled to find one between the kitchen and dining room, although it was a “flaw” we were willing to overlook, especially in a rental.  Also, that particular shade of brown wasn’t doing much for me and we couldn’t justify the cost they wanted to charge us to paint those four tiny little corner walls. And finally, one of the biggest problems we had with this little room was the fact that we had absolutely no furniture for it. Since we weren’t really fans of the breakfast room thing in the first place, we didn’t want to spend lots of money outfitting it for our needs. So, off to the thrift/consignment stores I went, just to see if I could find anything at all.

And I totally scored, let me tell you! See that table? Those chairs? Both the bookshelf and the corner cabinet? ALL from the same place, and all used, well, mostly! The table came with a bench seat as well as the six chairs you see here as well as a huge lazy susan for the center of the table that unfolds into a square that seats eight with a stored-under-the-top leaf. All of that for 100 bucks, and there wasn’t a scratch nor dent on one  single piece. They were brand spanking new! I painted all the chairs to add a bit of color, the bookshelf and corner cabinet also got the spray can spray tan, and voila! We have a breakfast room for less than the cost of two dining room chairs.

As an added bonus the colors all coordinated with my fiestaware, which was a happy accident. We wanted to have all the pieces out where our kids could reach them so they could help set the table for mealtimes. I also added a bit of blackboard paint to the inside of the cabinet doors on both pieces to give the kids something fun to do on a rainy day or the mornings before I have my coffee. I have to admit, they really did enjoy being able to draw on the doors!

We had quite a few challenges to meet in this room beyond finding the furnishings. One, there weren’t really that many walls. The room is basically a pass through room that barely separates the kitchen and dining room. It also has a set of lovely french doors that open into the living rooms as well as a door that leads outside. That brown wall color really had me stumped until I came upon this post from Sherry and John of Young House Love. This was the first post I saw on their site, and I’ve been reading their blog ever since. That light! Oh that light!! I wanted that lamp shade in the worst way and it totally became the inspiration that brought this room together. If we had actually stayed in that house for as long as we originally planned, I would have owned that shade by now and it would be happily swinging above that table!

And one of my favorite elements in the room was our little family photo wall. Such a fun project!! I bought a bunch of tiny place card holder frame favors online for about a buck a piece, spray painted them with the colors I already had for the chairs, popped the stands off the backs, and stuck them on the wall using the 3m Command Picture Hanging Strips. They are similar to little strips of velcro that allow you to hang pictures on the walls without worrying about damage from nail holes; definitely a bonus when renting a home. I only had to touch up one little spot from when I pulled one strip a little too vigorously. All the pictures are food related snapshots of the kids and our extended family; it’s a great way to use some of those crazy baby feeding pictures, or jelly/spaghetti faces, family feasts, or little ice cream shop stops! I applied a little photoshop filter to fade the colors a bit and add a sepia tone wash which helped keep it from getting too busy. We all loved looking at all these pictures, and I am really looking forward to adding it to the new home, although it will have to wait until we get a bit more painting done! All in good time!

And in the end, the little room that almost wasn’t really became one of our favorite rooms in the house. It was open, in the middle of everything going on, bright with natural light, colorful and lively, and despite our best efforts, it’s where the kids would inevitably plop down their toys and crafts to hang out.

Ah, the breakfast room indeed!