“Sparklers” for the Fourth

This year, instead of running back to Pennsylvania after school let out at the end of June, we decided to stick around and enjoy our seaside community’s early summer activities. One of the first things we crossed off our list was a friend’s famed 3rd of July party… The 3rd of July, so that everyone could take the 4th to recover. It was brilliant! We enjoyed homemade pizza from their hand-built, backyard wood-fired oven (where I took notes from the oven’s builder to add to my ever-growing list of dreams), and then walked to our local beach to watch the neighbors put on competing fireworks display up and down the coast. With the light breeze and clear sky and beautiful calm low tide and most excellent company… we could not have asked for a nicer day. I am so thankful for the people we have met here.

But before the festivities kicked off, the kids and I decided to make our recent tradition of chocolate covered sprinkled pretzels to bring along to the party. One of the kids decided they looked like sparklers, and so now we have a little family name for our fourth of July treats!

The Set Up

It really is a lovely little craft-like dessert project that all our littles can enjoy helping with. And the best part for me it that it requires no baking, which—as many of my friends and family can attest—is not my strong point.

No Baking Required

The process could not be more simple:
• Melt a few bags of chocolate candy coating (my kids also enjoy the vile vanilla, but maybe they’ll outgrow it) either in the microwave or over a double boiler, taking care to not burn it, which is really the only trick. I find a double boiler a bit more cumbersome for set-up, but easier to control for heat. Inevitably I burn the coating in the microwave, which causes it to seize up and crystalize.
• Pour melted coating into a tall, thin glass
• Dip pretzel rods—I’ve found the rods in buckets have fewer broken pieces than the rods in bags—into coating, placing dipped rods onto parchment or wax paper
• Shake your choice or sprinkles over the still-melted coating
• Let cool, then eat

Foodie Crafting

So easy, I promise!

Add Sparkles

All the kids enjoy the dipping, and with as many kids as we have (and one extra who was here on a play date!), we’re able to make a whole bunch in a short amount of time.

Too Many to Eat

Once we were done with all the dipping, we took the rest of the melted coating and put it in a lidded jar to save for next time. And yeah, if you have the time and patience, it would probably be even better with real chocolate, but I have neither the time, patience, nor equipment for proper tempering. I have made my peace with chocolate candy coating, since we have it only once or twice per year.

TaDaaaa

We brought them to the party in a galvanized bucket filled with rice so they could stand up on their own. We didn’t even get the bucket set down on the table before our sparkers started walking off in little (and big) hands.

What a nice little crafty-type foodie project to start off our summer!

Tea Time Gets an Upgrade

It’s been nearly eight weeks since the kids started school, and I think I can finally say that we’re back into the swing of things. I believed it was going to take a few more weeks before I could say that we all had adjusted, but minus a few hiccups here and there, I’m willing to concede that we’re back on schedule, we’ve regained our rhythm.

I think I have tea time to thank for that.

New Cups and Saucers

During the break, tea time fell by the wayside as we visited family, swam at the shore, collected rays of sunshine, dug in our garden, and drank in all that sweet summer had to offer. No one wanted to sit and sip while there were butterflies to catch, and I wasn’t about to stand over the stove supervising kettles to boil.

All About the Sugar

Come September, tea time rolled gently back into our schedule along with drop-offs and pick-ups and homework and earlier bedtimes in the shortening days. This year we’ve added a few upgrades; we now use the fancy cups and saucers as well as the silver-leafed plates for our cookies. I was surprised at the small number of times I’ve had to remind them to be gentle and careful; so far we’ve avoided any casualty-inducing catastrophes.

Fancy Plates

The Whole Family

Although we’re never 100% successful maintaining the schedule over the weekend, it has been fun introducing other family members and friends to our little ritual. Sometimes having company means a trip to the local cupcake hotspot for a special treat, baking being an activity that still remains a bit beyond my abilities.

Cupcakes

Who needs to fret and slave away over ingredients and the oven when you could help such awesome local businesses!

German Cake Server

I still try occasionally though. And even if I forget an ingredient or two (or maybe even three), sometimes the results are still edible.

Mamas Cup

And now that there are a few boxes of cookies stashed in the pantry, even those regular baking disasters haven’t been so catastrophic.

Sure wish it was as easy to upgrade the baking skills as it’s been to add a little flair to the tea time table. But I guess you really can’t have it all.

Why I Shouldn’t Bake

I, my dear folk, am not a baker.

I have been trying to convince friends and family members for many years that baking is something other people should do but not a skill to which I should invest any further energy. I can cook up a storm, and if it’s going to take a week for certain recipes (heck, I’ll even go a few months if I’m pickling!)… Sure! Sign me up. But I’ve been beaten so many times when attempting to bake, that I’ve finally realized it’s beyond me. I think it’s a good thing to know your limits.

Take for instance, an example of an early attempt to bake a boxed cake. It turns out that 2/3 cup of water does not mean “between two and three cups.” Or the time I added a floral scented trash can deodorizer to a batter instead of baking soda. And I wouldn’t want to overlook how many times I’ve forgotten ingredients: Butter is one that’s often left out, but I’ve also missed the blueberries in muffins, apples in an apple cake, or the baking soda, baking powder, and sometimes, both. It’s just not my thing folks.

But I have kids, and they like baked goods. And even though I much prefer pickles, I get a hankering for something sweet every now and then as well. And now that the kids and I are back to our daily afternoon tea, it’s nice to have a home baked bit of goodness instead of the cardboard cookies that come out of a box.

I decided to hunker down and hurdle my baking shortcomings, and ran to the pantry to grab a few ingredients to make a clafoutis, one of our all-time favorite desserts. It’s a cross between a cake, a custard, and a pancake with fruit. It is really super easy to thrown together, and the results are nearly always stunning.

Clafoutis Mise

So I set the oven to preheat, prepared my pan with melted butter, arranged my prune plums in a beautiful pattern, mixed the ingredients for the batter, poured it in slowly so as not to disturb the fruit, then placed it in the oven ever-so-gently. After I closed the door, I realized I was looking at a bowl full of melted butter that never made it to the batter. Here’s what a clafoutis looks like right as your begin mixing in the butter while letting all the heat out of the oven.

Forgotten Butter

Right. Fun times.

Of course, and hour later when I came down to take it out to set, I realized that when I mixed the butter in the batter, I also shut off the oven. So back it went with the oven turned back to the proper temperature, and off I went to grab the second grader at school while our lovely teenaged sitter watched the little ones. When I walked back into the smoke filled house (eek!), I ran into the kitchen and threw open the door, realizing through the thick smoke that poured out the the toddler has figured out how to turn the oven dials.

And I know you might not believe me, but I took that clafoutis out of the oven, put it on a rack to rest and chill, and that doggone thing was baked perfectly and tasted lovely. Sure wish I would’ve gotten a picture, but it didn’t last long…

I think I’ll stick to steak.

Another Birthday

March is a busy month for us. We have a birthday as we enter it, and another to celebrate as we prepare to leave it. In like a lion, out like a lamb, yes? Or maybe it’s more appropriately in like a one year old, out like a five year old.

Of course we started the day with the much anticipated birthday shirt. A sister-designed robot shirt, for the little guy who wants to grow up to be a robot. “But you can’t be a robot, Mama, so I’ll just have to be a robot builder.”

Birthday Shirt

Once again, the shirt was started and finished in the eleventh hour. This time, however, I had to admit a tiny bit of defeat. After sewing the felt number five crookedly for the sixth time, I gave up and used some iron-on fusing to get the job done. I will sew it on later today, but for now, a bit of rest while we enjoy the company of family who came in to visit for the day.

Another Angle

I still love how excited the kids gets to make and give and wear these shirts. It’s amazing what a bit of fabric markers, an old tshirt scrap, some creativity, a few stitches, and a whole lot of love can magic up!

Of course all that new shirt enthusiasm prompted the little ones still at home to get out theirs as well…
The Three Year Old Shirt

Baby Shirt

If you’d like to take a look at some other shirts, there’s the tutorial here, and the three year old’s here, and another three year old here, and our very first one here. Although I didn’t blog about them, pictures of the six and four year old shirts can be found with the tutorial.

And the day wouldn’t be complete without the special birthday cake request, although this time it was for S’mores Whoopie Pies, erm, I mean Gobs, which really were pretty tasty, although not so pretty. How could you possibly go wrong with Marshmallow Fluff  and Nutella filling? I’m pretty certain we’ll be making these again quite soon.

S'mores Whoopies

It was a lovely little family party to celebrate this little five year old guy. Just a perfect day.

“How does it feel to be five?” we asked him.

“It feels like I’m almost six.”

Happy Birthday, my almost six year old, but please don’t grow up so fast.

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Linking to these fine and fun DIY sites ::

==freckled laundry

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.

P.S. GO STEELERS!